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Molting

OH MY GOSH, EVERYONE! MY BIRDS LOOK AWFUL!!! I hope you are all staying strong through this time when you look at your precious birds and not cringe! I have been learning more and more on how to care for my birds through the colder weather, but NO ONE ever explained the molting process to me! Shame on all my chicken friends… because this year, Handsome looks like his name is Coopless! He looks like my husband ran him over with his zero-turn mower and he survived! I’ll share pictures… he doesn’t even have a tail! Eek! So! Let’s get started…

 

When the seasons change, we often notice our beautiful birds have started to look sickly or even in an odd sense, “ran over by a lawn mower!” You will notice several factors during this time such as losing their feathers, loss in egg production numbers, they can even display signs of being lethargic. In Michigan, our fall molt is the hardest on our flock. Let’s cover some common things that should be done during this time and take a look at what things can go wrong and what to focus on.

Molting is so important for chickens, during this time their bodies are working 5x as hard to prepare for the colder weather and these new feathers will help protect them during those nights that get below freezing. The core temperature for a chicken is between 104-107 degrees depending on the breeds. The ones who run higher temperatures tend to be the breeds that are hardier for the winter weather and can lay eggs almost all winter once a molt has passed. Because the core temperature is so high you do not need to provide a heat lamp for your hens. I know because we feel it is necessary for us to have heat during the colder weather, that they would, but the whole point of the molting process is so we do not have to give them a heat lamp. Their bodies are telling us, “We got this, we will be warm!” Providing heat is not necessary, but blocking wind and snow from entering the coop is! During the molt they will move slower and if your flock does not free range, please provide some safe spaces to hide from heavy snow fall or cold rain and winds. Trust me, your half naked birds will be grateful for that.

Many feel that growing feathers is no big deal, their chickens handle it great, but let’s dig a bit deeper. Did you know there is an actual enzymatic process that your chicken goes through, using up important trace minerals such as zinc, selenium and manganese?

Zinc: during this time your hen will be using the zinc she once used for reproduction of eggs to help build the feather follicle stemming from the skin, also known as a pin or shaft, and what once was used to help metabolize feed will be used for this as well.

Selenium: is literally what is used in chicken feed to help your hens and roosters with hatchability, semen quality and more. During molting, this is being reserved and is why you will see a lack of interest in your roosters on your hens, as well as lack of egg production. Supplementing this during the process can be helpful with mood enhancement, if your hens seem sad or lethargic, add some in their water with electrolytes!

Manganese: is used during this time to build up the feather strength, ability to provide a thicker feather as well as a stronger follicle. I usually recommend options such as peanut butter (or any other nut butter), whole nuts with no shells, oatmeal, beans and more.

I do believe in supplementing their bodies during this time. It is the least we owe them for their companionship, eggs to eat, and if you butcher, you’re improving the meat that you will consume one day in a healthy way!

Supplements Recommended During Molting

· Trace minerals mix or block- if you purchase mix, just sugar coat pellets before feeding

· Oyster shells and grit- add a full bowl amount for free picking, available 24/7

· Electrolytes- add into water or use powders on feed or make into a Jell-O as a treat

· Protein- add 1/3 of a cup more per feeding per chicken or increase feed to a 20% level

· Warm bowl of oatmeal- add cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper (this is necessary to activate the health benefits of turmeric called curcumin*) and thyme or oregano and basil, warm not hot! Great for a snack and helps hold weight and boost immune system.

· Keep a first aid box in case of blood feathers, plyers and witch hazel, cotton balls and corn starch

 

*Curcumin helps the body manage inflammation occurring in the muscles and the skin tissues. It will help during the molting process by reducing the amount of soreness and any irritation occurring. SO DO NOT FORGET THE BLACK PEPPER! LOL

 

I am sure if you are a first-time chicken owner you may have no idea what a blood feather is, which is okay! It took me 6 years to see one and it wasn’t in my flock. Our neighbor called me after we dropped our kids off at school and said “Mandie, I have a chicken emergency can you come over ASAP!” UMMMM, YES, I CAN AND I DID!! I grabbed my first aid box and loaded my toddler up and off we went to see what emergency was amongst us. When we showed up, Tammy was holding a bloody hen who looked lethargic, skinny and just down right exhausted. She told me about how lately she has been just not feeling well, she’s losing feathers and weight. Once I held her, I noticed she had several large feathers bleeding. (I do not have photos, so please google this so you can see and notice it when or if it does occur) This is why I recommend having witch hazel and plyers with corn starch.

1. You will want to clean the hen off, by either by wiping her with the wash cloth or use cotton balls and witch hazel. The witch hazel is very gentle on their skin and will clean the area very well.

2. Gently wrap your hen in a towel and grab your plyers and corn starch

3. Remove by pulling the feather out towards the tail, basically in the direction the feather is growing. It will bleed more and be very painful if you pull straight up or towards the head.

4. Wipe area clean with the witch hazel and cotton ball.

5. Pinch some cornstarch and cover the pore that is bleeding, this will stop bleeding faster (if you want a recipe for your own styptic powder mixture to keep in your first aid box read my other blog coming soon (My Flocks First Aid Box)

Technically, all new growth feathers are considered a blood feather. When first year birds or during a molt process when the new growth is replacing the old feathers lost, these feathers have an excessive blood supply within the shaft (the part of the feather growing from the follicle). If the feather breaks it can cause infection so clean it well and keep her in a clean area, if you have one available.

Once we got Tammy’s hen cleaned up and her few bleeding blood feathers pulled and corn starched, I went over the molting process and what she should add to the coop to prevent this from happening. By adding the protein and trace minerals, this will prevent blood feathers by at least by 75%. Never let anyone tell you, you’re just spoiling them, BECAUSE YOU ARENT SPOILING THEM, YOU ARE TAKING CARE OF THEM! It is so important to give them the best life we can. If you can’t do that then why bother having them!

During this process feed more, love more and try out the supplementing list! This can become one more thing that you prepare for before the colder weather comes! Cause yah know!? It is never ending these days! Lol

These are Shadow and Mama, they are officially almost done molting and have their new beautiful feathers! Just wanted to share how cute they are getting each season! They run our duck flock. Shadow took over with taking care of babies, because Mama needed a break! 25 babies can be a lot!

 

Stay tuned for “My Flocks First Aid Box” Blog too… this little box will be your best friend during emergencies.

 

Until next time,

Happy to bring you information!

Amanda B.

 
 
 
 

What to Do with Thanksgiving Leftovers

The Thanksgiving feast has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean the leftovers have to go to waste! In fact, there are many creative ways to use those delicious leftovers. From pies to casseroles to breakfast dishes, we’ve got you covered. So read on for some of our favorite recipes that will help you make the most of your Thanksgiving leftovers.

Thanksgiving Leftover Turkey Pot Pie

This pot pie is the perfect way to use up those Thanksgiving leftovers. It’s packed with all of your favorite Thanksgiving flavors, and it’s sure to become a family favorite.

 

Instead of using chicken in your favorite pot pie, use left over turkey meat.  A delicious pot pie can be as simple as combining leftover, chopped turkey, a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, and cream of celery soup and pouring it into a premade pie dish.  Serve it up with crushed cheese-its (trust us on this!).

Thanksgiving Leftover Turkey Enchiladas

These enchiladas are a fun and creative way to use up your Thanksgiving leftovers. They’re packed with flavor, and they’re sure to be a hit with the whole family.

 

Use leftover turkey meat instead of chicken to create sour cream and turkey enchiladas.  The hardest step (cooking the meat) has already been done!  Combine the turkey meat with sour cream and cheese to create a delicious sauce and then bake them up in the oven until the sauce is bubbly and golden.

Thanksgiving Leftover Turkey Soup

This soup is the perfect way to use up those leftover turkey scraps. It’s hearty and filling, and it’s sure to become a family favorite.

 

Use turkey meat instead of chicken to make a homemade soup. Add your shredded turkey to chicken broth, salt, pepper, parsely, and veggies.  Allow the soup to simmer slowly to blend all of the flavors and cook the vegetables.  Add egg noodles a few minutes before serving.

Thanksgiving Leftover Turkey Chili

This chili is the perfect way to use up your leftover turkey. If you like white chicken chili, this will be a new favorite for you. 

 

To make white turkey chili, saute onion, garlic, and green chilies in a large pot.  Stir in chicken broth, cream of chicken soup, and Great Northern beans.  Add your shredded turkey and allow the chili to simmer for 30 minutes. Top with cheddar cheese when serving.

Thanksgiving Leftover Turkey Sandwich

This sandwich is the perfect way to use up your leftover turkey. It’s simple and delicious, and it’s sure to become a lunchtime favorite.

 

Here’s how to put together the best Thanksgiving leftover turkey sandwich: 

 

Start with two slices of bread.  On one slice, add mayonnaise, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.  Top with sliced turkey and the other slice of bread.  Serve grilled.

Thanksgiving Leftover Cranberry Sauce Muffins

These muffins are the perfect way to use up your leftover cranberry sauce. They’re fluffy and moist, and they’re studded with sweet cranberries.

 

Our favorite way to make leftover cranberry sauce muffins is to start with a box of yellow cake mix.  Stir in a can of cranberry sauce and a cup of chopped pecans.  Pour the batter into muffin tins and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Thanksgiving Leftover Stuffing Waffles

These waffles are the perfect way to use up your leftover stuffing. They’re crispy and delicious, and they make a great breakfast or brunch.

 

Making leftover stuffing waffles is easy: 

 

Just add your stuffing to a waffle iron and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Serve with gravy and cranberry sauce.

Thanksgiving Leftover Sweet Potato Casserole Pancakes

These pancakes are the perfect way to use up your leftover sweet potato casserole. They’re fluffy and delicious, and they make a great breakfast or brunch.

 

To whip up thanksgiving leftover sweet potato casserole pancakces, start by adding your leftover sweet potato casserole to a blender.  Puree until smooth and then add milk, eggs, and flour.  Mix until well combined.

 

Cook the pancakes on a griddle or in a frying pan over medium heat. Serve with syrup and butter.

Thanksgiving Leftover Turkey Hash

This hash is the perfect way to use up your leftover turkey. It’s hearty and filling, and it’s sure to become a family favorite.

 

Here’s how we make thanksgiving leftover turkey hash: 

 

In a large skillet, saute diced onion and potatoes in olive oil.  Once they’re browned and soft, stir in shredded turkey, thyme, rosemary, and sage.  Cook until the turkey is heated through.  Top with fried eggs before serving.

Thanksgiving Leftover Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

This smoothie is the perfect way to use up your leftover pumpkin pie. It’s creamy and delicious, and it makes a great breakfast or snack.

 

To make a leftover pumpkin pie smoothie, add pumpkin puree, milk, yogurt, and pumpkin pie spice to a blender.  Blend until smooth and then pour into glasses.  Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon before serving.

 

With these leftover hacks, you’re sure to have a delicious and creative Thanksgiving! What are your favorite ways to use up your leftovers? 

 

All About the Olive Egger Breed

When I first started raising backyard chickens, I didn’t really think about egg colors. I just pictured going out to the coop and collecting our breakfast. And while that was fun, I started dreaming about a colorful egg basket. One thing led to another and here I am 47 chickens later! Haha! I have no regrets though. Our egg basket is beautiful, and our yard is sprinkled with multiple chicken breeds. It just doesn’t get any better!

I have two Olive Eggers. They are a delight and add a lot of personality to our flock. They are very docile, friendly, good flock friends and do great both in the winter and the summer temps. They have a pea comb and rarely go broody. They lay up to 260 large olive-colored eggs per year. They love to tootle around the yard and are fairly quiet. They are considered dual purpose, but we won’t be eating Opal and Olive. They are too funny and bring so much joy to our home.

All About the Olive Egger Breed

We live in Minnesota and one of the most asked questions is how our chickens survive the frigid winters. Olive Eggers are great for this! They do quite well in the winter here and don’t seem to mind the snow too much. Most chickens don’t love the snow. Chickens have built in winter coats with all of their feathers. Olive Eggers are so cute with their little puffed out cheeks and their feathers are super soft.

The main reason people buy Olive Eggers is of course for their beautiful olive eggs! These eggs bring a depth to our egg basket and I’m not sad about it. They are gorgeous! Olive lays beautiful olive eggs with speckles. It’s my favorite egg of the day! Of course, all the eggs taste the same. The color comes from the dye the chicken puts on it right before they come out. Each breed has a different color and that’s where the variety comes from. As we’ve grown our flock, we’ve really diversified our eggs colors.

All About the Olive Egger Breed

I’ve gotten both of our Olive Eggers from Hoover’s Hatchery and I took this information below from their website to describe the breed crossing that provides these beautiful chickens.

“Our Olive Eggers come from a couple of different crosses. We have one line that is a cross of Americanas and French Cuckoo Marans. With this hybrid, most of the females will be black but a few will come out blue. We also have another cross that is between Legbars and Welsummers, our goal with these is to create a green egg that is speckled similar to the Welsummers. Both crosses have a chance of laying brown eggs.”

If you’re looking to add a fun and friendly chicken to your flock, look no further than the Olive Egger. They bring a lot of entertainment to your yard as well as your egg basket!

Until next time,

–The Wing Lady

What Thanksgiving Leftovers Are Safe To Feed My Chickens?

Do you know what the 10 most popular Thanksgiving dishes are? I had my suspicions and after a quick internet search, I am happy to say I got most of the list right! And let me tell you, I have a few personal favorites on this list.

  1. Roast Turkey

  2. Stuffing

  3. Mashed Potatoes

  4. Green Bean Casserole

  5. Corn

  6. Sweet Potatoes

  7. Brussel Sprouts

  8. Cranberry Sauce

  9. Pecan Pie

  10. Pumpkin Pie

If your family is anything like mine, we cook for a crowd and always have plenty of leftovers to go around and that includes letting my chickens feast on the leftovers.

My only caution with sharing Thanksgiving leftovers with your chickens is to be careful with what they can and can’t eat.

Let’s breakdown the top 10 most popular Thanksgiving dishes and talk about what leftovers you can share with your chickens.

What Thanksgiving Leftovers Are Safe To Feed My Chickens?

Photo Credit: HGTV

Roast Turkey

Yes, it is safe to feed your chickens leftover turkey and what most people don’t know is that chickens get a lot of entertainment cleaning the carcasses. Plus, a little extra protein if they are molting in the autumn also never hurts.

Stuffing

No, sorry but your girls are going to need to pass on the second most popular dish! It is true that chickens love bread, but stuffing is typically highly salted, and chickens are susceptible to salt poisoning. So, it is best to avoid feeding this dish to them.

Mashed Potatoes

No, our recommendation is to avoid giving them white potatoes. Some sources say they can have them in moderation, but we think it is best to not. Potatoes can contain the toxin solanine that can cause diarrhea.

Green Bean Casserole

Yes! This leftover vegetable is ok to share with your chickens. And green beans can serve as a source of nutrition for your hens.

Corn

Yes, you can feed raw, cooked, or dried corn to your chickens. A tip would be to not over salt or butter the cooked corn that you give them. Corn should be fed in moderation and consider it “treat” for your chickens.

Sweet Potatoes

Yes, feel free to give your girls left over sweet potatoes. If you happened to make sweet potato casserole, remove the marshmallow topping before sharing it with your hens. No one needs that much sugar. Ha!

Brussel Sprouts

Yes! Brussel sprouts are a healthy vegetable that you can feed to your chickens. Brussel sprouts are a powerhouse when it comes to nutrition. They are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Cranberry Sauce

It’s a yes. Chickens love cranberries on their own or mixed into recipes. If you add a lot of sugar to your cranberry sauce, remember to feed it in moderation.

And now it is time for dessert!

Pecan Pie

Yes, chickens can eat pecan pie but here comes the sugar warning again. Just make sure it is a treat and fed in moderation. Chickens can eat most kinds of nuts including walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and more.

Pumpkin Pie

Yes, like pecan pie it is ok for chickens but make it an occasional treat. Pumpkin does have some nutritional value providing calcium, potassium, and magnesium.

What Thanksgiving Leftovers Are Safe To Feed My Chickens?

I hope this little guide was helpful and that you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Until next time,

-The Wing Lady

Litter – A Versatile Word and Odd One in Chicken Vocabulary

“Bedding” means soft wood chips or straw in a horse or cow’s stall. But if the same material is in a chicken coop it’s “litter.” That seems weird.

 

When applied to chickens the word “litter” has nothing to do with trash scattered along a road. The word is derived from the ancient Latin lectos which meant “bed” and was used to describe a flat platform carried by husky men with the emperor riding on top.   The French changed the word to litiere and used it differently.  French linguist, Mark Norlander, translated it to mean, “a bed of soft and insulating organic matter spread in buildings as a place for animals to lay down.”  Anglicized to litter, it means one of many items put on a coop’s floor to absorb manure and make walking and dusting pleasant for chickens. Oddly, litter also lines a cat’s toilet and what we call new born kittens.

Sand, straw, dry leaves, ground corn cobs, sawdust and wood fibers are all used for litter. Sand is heavy and hard to handle, while straw and leaves mat down and get soggy. Ground up or pelletized corn cobs work well but are expensive. That leaves wood fibers as the most common, and usually best, chicken litter. Buying and using it can be confusing.

 

Texture and Size Are Important

 

Feed stores sell bags packed with chopped up wood to be used for litter. Its texture varies from finely pulverized fibers nearly as powdery as flour to chunky flakes about an inch long. What’s best?

Texture makes a difference. Flakes are ideal for lining nests. They resist getting scratched out when hens are in the nest laying and make a oft cushion to reduce egg breakage. Flakes can also be used on the floor, but finer ground wood fibers are more absorbent and easier to compost. A blend of fine and coarse wood fibers works well.

 

The tree species that wood fibers are made from also makes a difference. Feed stores often sell litter made from aspen, pine, and red cedar. Aspen’s a white wood with almost no aroma. Red cedar is aromatic and breaks down slowly in the soil. It’s also expensive and is best avoided. Pine is most common. Often it is identified as “yellow pine” on the package but this can mean one of many species.  If processed in a southern mill it’s likely made from Loblolly Pine. It works well and has a faint pine fragrance. If the litter came from a mill in the Black Hills it’s probably from Ponderosa Pine and has a more pronounced pine aroma that’s delightful in the coop.

 

Bird Droppings Are Unusual

 

Moisture is the bane of stalls and coops. Wet bedding, litter, and manure smell. Horses, cattle, and most pets produce plenty of liquid urine. Their saturated bedding needs to be replaced often. No so with chickens. Birds don’t excrete liquid urine. Their pee is a thin dry mineral coating over their somewhat moist poop. When the mixture falls into litter it disintegrates into a dry powder that blends with wood fibers. Because it’s dry, there’s no need to change it often, making caring for chickens easier than many other animals.

An Annual Litter Management Plan

Litter can be managed in many ways. Below is a plan that works well:

 

  • Keep it dry: If the roof or a waterer leaks, fix the leak, remove and compost the wet litter and replace it with dry wood fibers.
  • Replenish the litter from time to time. Add an inch or two of new wood fiber to the top of the old litter every few months.
  • Spring and Fall: Remove old litter from the coop. Either place it in a composter (best) or dig it into garden soil. It can also be used as mulch around shrubs. Composting it for six months will break it down into an outstanding soil builder.

 

Litter is dusty and not good to breathe.  Wear a dust mask when handling it and wash up when done. And, before eating.

 

Used Litter Makes Garden Plants Leap

 

Everyone knows that a backyard flock lays the most delicious eggs. Some families also butcher and eat their old hens. These the obvious chicken benefits, but old litter may even be more valuable. It’s a lucky garden that receives it.

Wood is highly lignified. It’s mostly cellulose. Add it to the soil straight, and decomposition can rob the soil of nitrogen. However, when wood is mixed with dried nitrogen-rich chicken poop it decomposes quickly and adds nutrients to the soil that help plants thrive. According to agronomist Dr. Jean Contina the smaller the wood fibers are the quicker they will decompose and add nutrients to the soil.

Although aged litter removed from the coop can be immediately added to garden soil, it’s best to compost it for a few months to accelerate decomposition.

 

Litter is valuable. It’s not trash along the road. While in the coop it makes life comfortable for the chickens as it absorbs droppings. When the chickens are done with it garden vegetables thrive in the mixture of nitrogen rich droppings and decomposed wood fibers.

 

Litter – an odd word with many meanings.

A Taste of Fall

Fall is a cozy time of year full of baked treats, pumpkin spice lattes and rich foods. While we love all these things at our house, sometimes our bodies crave nutritious, colorful food. This fall salad will fill you up and leave you looking forward to the next time you eat it! It’s packed full of nutrition and is super easy to make. I love salads because you can throw just about anything you and your family enjoy and it works!

Roasted Squash Salad

Roasted Squash Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup Cubed Butternut squash

  • 3-4 Cups Mixed Greens

  • 3 Tbsp Sliced Almonds

  • 3 Tbsp Craisins

  • 3 Tbsp Candied Walnuts

  • 2 Tbsp Dried Blueberries

  • Poppyseed or Vinaigrette Dressing of Choice

Directions:

Roast the squash at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes until soft. Remove from the oven and let cool. Add mixed greens, almonds, craisins, candied walnuts and dried blueberries in a medium bowl. When squash is cooled, add to salad. Toss with your favorite dressing and enjoy!

Roasted Squash Salad

Now, if you want something easy and a little less healthy, we can talk about the incredible pumpkin gingerbread I make as well! Hahaha! This is by far a family favorite! I’ll give you the recipe, but only if you promise to make it! I assure you; it will be a huge hit! As with all my recipes, it’s easy to whip up and as an added bonus, it makes your house smell like fall.

Roasted Squash Salad

Annie’s Pumpkin Gingerbread

Mix together and set aside:

  • 3 C sugar

  • 1 C Oil

  • 4 Eggs

Combine in another bowl:

  • 3 ½ C. Flour

  • 2 tsp Baking Soda

  • 1 ½ tsp Salt

  • ½ tsp Baking Powder

  • 2 tsp Ginger

  • 1 tsp Cinnamon

  • ½ tsp Nutmeg

  • 1 tsp Ground Gloves

  • 1 tsp. Allspice

Directions:

Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the oil mixture. In all honesty? I dump it all into my KitchenAid Mixer and turn it onto medium speed and it does just fine. Beat in 1 small can of PUMPKIN. Pour into 2 greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 for an hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. Enjoy!

Feeding my family gives me a great sense of accomplishment! Probably because I don’t usually pull off multiple hot meals a week. I see you parents who are raising kids in activities! I’ve gone to providing what I can on the days that it works for us. Remember, life with family is about the quality and not necessarily about the quantity!

Until next time,

–The Wing Lady

Time to Say Goodbye

Anyone who has kept a backyard flock eventually faces a dilemma. As hens age their egg laying slows. Eventually it nearly stops. There’s a point where the girls eat expensive feed yet hardly lay an egg. How does a flock owner decide when to get rid of aging hens and what to do with them?

 

A Laying Scenario

A young pullet starts laying when she is 18 to 24 weeks old. If she’s of a productive breed she’ll soon lay like fury. It takes about 26 hours for an egg to form, so every once in a while, she’ll take a day off, but a flock of six young hens should average five eggs a day. Sometimes six eggs will be in the nest and other days only four. The flock should average about 80% production that first lay cycle.

 

Hens lay for a year or a little longer and then take a vacation, called the molt. They’ll lose their old worn feathers, regrow new ones, beef up the body, and start the second laying cycle after a six to eight week laying pause.

They’ll follow the lay/molt cycle throughout their lives. After each molt hens lays fewer eggs, so that is a problem for a small flock owner. The 80% lay rate of a young flock will usually drop to about 70% in the second cycle. This cycle falls at least another 10% a year in subsequent cycles.

 

An individual hen can lay for ten years but by the time the flock is four or five years old, egg production is so low it hardly justifies the feed cost. To keep production high flock owners replace their aging hens every two or three years.

 

How To Tell if A Hen’s Not Laying

 

Telling whether a hen is consistently laying is an important skill.  Although few older birds lay well, even an occasional younger bird will consume feed yet lay few eggs. Here are ways to identify a non-layer:

 

  • Age: Keep track of how old your hens are. Few hens lay well after they pass their fourth or fifth hatch day.
  • Appearance: Productive hens look great early in their egg laying cycle but start looking rough as months go by. Their once yellow beaks and legs lighten and feathers become worn and a bit ragged. A hen that looks like she stepped out of a spa is putting her energy into appearance not eggs. She’s a stew candidate.
  • Feeling Pelvic bones: Laying hens have wide spaces between their pelvic bones, but these bones on non-layers are close together.

 

What To Do with Non-Laying Hens

 

Mentor Hen: Older hens have value. Keeping a veteran hen or two with the new layers helps them pass their wisdom down to the younger generation. It’s perfectly fine to keep old, rarely laying hens, but they are more pets than food producers.

 

Stew: People get attached to their hens. They can’t bear to convert them to stew, and many town ordinances forbid slaughtering chickens. However, the meat of older hens is tough but tasty. When stewed with onions, potatoes, carrots, and spices they make delicious fare.

 

YouTube Videos show how to butcher chickens. It is the ultimate DIY project. However, if slaughtering isn’t allowed, or the flock owner just won’t, or can’t, do it, turn to social media.

 

Give them Away: Many people are happy to take old hens. Ads on social media offering free birds will likely bring takers. A few may keep them but most will transform them into stew. They’ll slaughter them out of the sight of the previous owner.

 

Records Are Important

Keeping egg production records is important and a great way for children to learn basic data collection, graphing, and interpretation. Keeping a clipboard in the coop and recording daily egg production helps monitor efficiency. The information can then be transferred to the computer to enhance typing and analysis abilities. Yet another set of valuable modern-day skills. Graphing data shows the ebb and flow of egg laying.

Prepping for Winter

Well, well, well, look who has showed up! FALL! Which means for us flock tenders we have to start the preparation for winter! From making sure we have a way to keep them warm, protecting their crops and feet, providing them with a healthy diet and making sure they will have plenty of snacks, now that the grass will be covered in snow soon!

Some states do not have to worry about the cold, but I am in Michigan and here we never truly know when it will snow or rain, basically our weather has a mind of its own and the weatherman/woman is never right (so funny…laughing out loud)! So where do we begin when fall comes? That is a good question. I tell people to start with heat, bulbs and heated water bowls or buckets, anything heat related.

If you are able to run an extension cord or have power in your coop many wonder, Do you want to provide a lamp? This is 100% your choice! You are the only one who understands your coop. On our farm, where the nest boxes are located inside, it’s heated with a heat bulb instead of a basic light bulb and it is insulated with power. My chickens live in the outside portion of the coop though (seriously such stinkers) so none of them care that heat is in there. They will always choose the outside. The outside is completely fenced off and roofed for winter because I don’t want them to only have an area with snow to run around in. I do allow mine almost every day, even in winter, to free range. They love playing in the snow. I will surely post some pictures this winter to show you! Eeee! It is ADORABLE!!

Back to what I was saying though, heat bulb or not, they should have a warmer space to get into and if your coop does not provide that, I have some ideas! To create a warmer space, you can add a denser bedding, such as straw. I do not recommend this in the same are you choose to hang a heat bulb, just because accidents can happen and fires can start very easily. To help insulate a lot of people will take a tarp (I recommend a vinyl tarp versus your average blue or black polyethylene tarps, these will last years rather than just one season) cover one side of their coop from top to bottom and use straw bales to stack up and create an insulated wall with it. This helps block wind and snow while creating a more winter proof living space.

BEFORE YOU BUY ANYTHING, BUY HEATED WATER BOWLS! I do NOT recommend buckets; I have had friends who lost some of their flock because they didn’t fill the bucket high enough and then hen fell in face first and could not get out and ended up drowning. So please avoid a regular bucket! I only say get a heated water bowl now, because when you want them while it is snowing, they are usually always out at supply stores.

I recommend:

  • Either a plug-in heated water bowl (do not keep in straw in case anything goes wrong with the cord, better to be safe then sorry!)

  • Rubber horse feeding bowls with a floating heater

  • These are great for chickens and ducks! If you choose to go larger like a short water trough for sheep or goats, it is not so as safe as you think for ducks. We had a duck last year jump into our water troth with the floating heater and tried to climb on it and knocked a wire loose on the top and it got electrocuted! So, lesson learned, we do smaller rubber bowls that they do not try to climb into! Or, simply add some reinforced electrical tape to the top of the heater where the wire goes in.

 

Once you have a way to block the wind and snow from your coop and provide clean, warm water for your flock then most of winter will be a breeze! I do have a few things that I do for my flock that I would like to share with you. Some people feel I do too much but I love my flock, they have saved me in a sense and have brought so much peace into my life when I didn’t feel like a person. Having 3 babies and going through post-partum depression can really get to a person, and my birds helped make me laugh, heard me cry, let my babies hand feed them, and help me teach how to be a loving pet owner to my children. They complete my world and I can not imagine a time when I didn’t have them. SO! I do like to go above and beyond to make them comfy!

When it gets very cold (below freezing at the end of the day), when my flock returns to the coop at night, I go in with Vaseline or coconut oil. I put it on their feet, crops and waddles to prevent frostbite. The coconut oil I like best because I can even rub it around their eyes, my hens truly appreciate this, ladies of all species like to try to avoid wrinkles! (hahaha that is just a joke, I am not going too crazy here, BUT it made u smirk!)

I love baking warm snacks for them, so taking seeds of any kind, I choose 4 kinds and mix them with some dried meal worms, molasses and peanut butter then bake in the oven at 300 degrees for 25 minutes. Some ovens take 35 minutes.

· 1 circle pan (like for cheesecake/pie)

· In large bowl mix

o 1 cup NatureServe Layer pellets

o 1 cup Sunflower seeds

o 1 cup Safflower seeds

o 1 cup of dried meal worms or cracked corn

o 1 cup Dried peas or pumpkin seeds

o 2 cups of molasses

o 2 cups of peanut butter

· Mix all ingredients well and then place into the pan

· Bake at 300 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes

· Let cool for 20 mins then take to the coop!

If you’re in a hurry, your chickens will surely love a hot feed drink, which is very easy! Get your goat’s milk (I purchase a fermented goat’s milk called ANSWERS from our local pet store) and NatureServe feed, then you’ll need:

· Large cooking bowl

· Some raw fermented goat’s milk, warmed up

· Some cinnamon, clove, nutmeg or a pumpkin spice

· In the large bowl, add 50% of the bowl size with your NatureServe Layer pellets

· Add the warm goat’s milk and spice and mix well

· Let sit while you get ready for the day

· When you leave, mix it up and take it outside and serve!

o THEY WILL LOVE YOU FOR THIS!!!

We do this for our barn cats as well, with no poultry feed though, just warm goat’s milk with some cinnamon. Everyone deserves a warm drink on an early winter morning!

You may feel I promote NatureServe in my blog because this is their page, but I have fed their food before ever writing blogs for them. I chose their food because it supported so much of what I was looking for in a feed: proper percentages for organ and body growth, support for their immune and respiratory system, and their feed SMELLS AMAZING!! So many companies’ feed smells like dirt or just old, but not NatureServe pellets. It seriously smells like soup or a rotisserie dinner. I love it!! I have great, bright orange egg yolks and strong egg shells, no issues with my hens not laying or being egg bound. It supports them where I am worried, sometimes free ranging can’t always. So, if you have not tried it, do it! You will love it and so will they!

One last thing that I started adding in the winter was a large dust bath area. I took an old wheel barrel that broke off the base and filled it with diatomaceous earth. Because we use a wood stove for the winter months, I add warm ash from our wood stove into the dust bath pile. The hens love it! They line up and usually 3 at a time can dust bathe, nothing feels better then some nice warm ash on a cold day when your outside 24-7.

I also like to sprout oat and sunflower seeds for them since the grass is gone, this is a fun snack for them. Beware, it is stinky, but they love it! Just soak seeds overnight, then rinse and drain, keep seed in an air available container and rinse daily to keep the seeds moist, and WOOWHOO, sprouted seeds full of amazing probiotics and gut health benefits! They sell sprouting kits online with jars and a cute stand on Amazon for very affordable. If you have kids or grandkids, it’s a cool science project to hand feed the poultry with!

I hope you loved these ideas! Please share them to your friends or send me pictures. I appreciate everyone who reads and follows them!

 

-Amanda B.

How Eggs Get Their Colors

If you’re deciding on new chickens and what new breeds to add to your flock, egg color is probably one of your top considerations. Long gone are the days of plain white eggs.

How did colored eggs come about?

Eggs from the very first chickens of the wild started out as tan, or light brown. Wild jungle fowl were domesticated around 2000 BC. All our domesticated breeds stem from these wild fowl.

All eggs start out INSIDE the hen as white. Through simple genetic tweaks, eggs now can come in white, tan, dark brown, speckled, blue, green, olive, and every color in between! Without getting too deep into the eggshell rabbit hole of genetics, allow me to explain how eggs get their colors!

(Remember, egg shell color does not affect the yolk or egg white. A more nutritious egg will have a deeper yellow yolk. Diet directly affects the quality of egg.)

Blue Eggs

Try this experiment: crack a blue egg. You will see the inside of the shell is blue. A light, robin’s egg blue. Crack open a green egg, and it will also be blue on the inside. That’s because green eggs start out as blue. The base color of most blue and green eggs is actually light blue, which stems from white eggs.

The compound responsible for blue eggs is called oocyanin. Oocyanin penetrates through the entire eggshell, making it blue all the way through the shell. Oocyanin makes its appearance early in the egg forming stage, that is why a blue or green shelled egg is always blue throughout the shell. Blue eggers first originated in South America about 400 years ago with the true Araucanian breed.

Dark Eggs

Dark eggs are achieved through a slightly different process. Pigments attach to the eggshell at the final stage of laying. These are proteins are called porphyrins. Porphyrins are only deposited on the exterior of the shell. It is one of the last processes to occur right before the egg is laid. You’ll notice the inside of a dark eggshell is white, the base color. When a chicken has more of these proteins present, they are deposited on the shell, making it appear brown or heavily speckled. Dark eggs have a high likelihood of having meat spots inside the egg. These are harmless, and only an eyesore. There seems to be a correlation between the extra proteins being deposited on the eggshell as well as occasionally inside the egg.

Dark eggs have become more and more popular over the years. I must admit, I love them too! These chickens aren’t necessarily any more special than other breeds, they simply have more porphyrins.

Green Eggs

Much like dog breeding, different colored eggs or characteristics can be achieved by careful mixing of breeds.  Green egg layers have two different parents. One must be from blue laying stock, while the other must be from brown laying stock. Dust some dark porphyrins onto an already blue egg containing oocyanin, and you get a green looking egg! Isn’t it amazing!

The olive egger comes from even more complicated breeding. Mix green laying stock with dark brown laying stock. Much like combining paint colors, mixing different stock results in the chance of a hybrid color. . Mix brown with green, you get a brownish green, or a more illustrative term, olive!

Pink/Purple Eggs

All eggs are covered in a protective membrane called a “bloom.” The “bloom” keeps bacteria from entering the porous eggshell. Some lucky individual birds lay a heavy bloom, meaning a thicker layer of membrane. This creates a mild white mask over the eggshell. If you have a dark layer who also lays a heavy bloom, her eggs come out looking purple. The bloom washes off under water, revealing the eggshell color underneath.

Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a basket full of kaleidoscope eggs sitting on the counter. I hope you’ll try to add a few of these to your flock! Fall is the perfect time to order chicks that will be ready to lay in Spring.

Here’s a list of breeds you should try to get colored eggs at home!

Blue

Araucana

Americana

Easter Eggers

Prairie Bluebell Egger

Green

Starlight Green Egger

Olive Egger

Americana

Darkest Brown

Maran

Wellsummer

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