A complete guide to organic poultry keeping

Chickens

Although smallholding does not imply any requirement to keep livestock; most smallholders do keep some poultry and most smallholders do begin with chickens.

Chickens were one of the first animals to be domesticated way back in our distant past, and this was for more than one reason. Chickens are by far the least dangerous of all the domesticated animals we do keep, they are very productive both for meat and eggs, but however they do have their drawbacks.

The Up Side

Chickens when chosen well, will provide a small family with all the meat and eggs they need on little more than the area of the average garden, they are easily contained in movable arks (small mobile homes with both protection from the elements and an outdoor run.) These can be constructed easily by anyone with the inclination and a few basic tools, for far less than a shop bought mass produced unit.

Choosing your chickens is the key to success; if you are looking for just meat then commercial breeders have perfected some hybrid chickens, which put on weight very quickly. I believe however that this tendency to gain weight quickly in any type of hybrid stock is detrimental to the true flavour of the meat.

Choosing your chickens for good egg production has similar drawbacks many of today modern hybrid chickens will lay more than 300 eggs per year, they will even lay 300 good quality eggs. But they are often incapable of reproduction without assistance, and you will need to either keeping a few of an older breed just to sit on your eggs for replenishing your stock, or buying an incubator to artificially incubate your eggs. Both of these methods of preproduction will come at a cost, both financial and personal inconvenience. Paying to feed an older breed of hen that will go broody readily but not produce as many eggs as the hybrid is costly, an incubator is to my mind expensive and artificial, the personal cost comes in the form of failure as both hens and incubators fail at times.

For my own needs and my recommendation would be to choose an old breed that has proven to be a good dual purpose breed, i.e. will provide you with both good meat and a reasonable amount of good quality eggs. There are as with all choices drawbacks and compromises to be made, but in my opinion the pluses outweigh any of the drawbacks.

Some of the choices are as follows

Sussex

Varieties: Speckled, Red, Light

Standard Weights : Cock-9 pounds; hen-7 pounds;

Skin Colou r: White.

Egg Shell Colour : Brown.

Use : A general-purpose breed for producing meat and/or eggs, one of the best of the dual-purpose chickens, a good all-around farm fowl.

Brahma

Varieties: Light, Dark, Buff

Standard Weights (Light): Cock-12 pounds; hen-9-1/2 pounds;

Standard Weights (Dark and Buff): Cock-1 1 pounds; hen-8-1/2 pounds;

Skin Colour : Yellow.

Egg Shell Colour : Brown.

Use : A very heavy fowl for the production of heavy roasters, fair egg layers.

Wyandotte

Varieties: White, Buff, Columbian, Golden Laced, Blue, Silver Laced, Silver-Pencilled, Partridge, Black

Standard Weights : Cock-8-1/2 pounds, hen-6-1/2 pounds,

Skin Colour : Yellow.

Egg Shell Colour : Brown.

Use : Meat or eggs.

There are of course more to choose from but these are my favourite breeds and all are proven in their ability to produce excellent quality meat and eggs, as well as reproduce readily and without assistance of any kind. You will of course still suffer the inevitable failures of hatching but these breeds will prove to be a pleasure to keep, and of course the eggs will provide for your needs in cooking as well as reproduction, and the meat will be a pleasure to eat.

The Down Side

Chickens are easily lost; the array of diseases is vast and complicated. Chickens do not readily show any sign of some of the more deadly diseases and complaints that they suffer from; the first sign may be that you find them dead. I do not however see this as a reason not to keep them; they can be easily fed and provided for without drastic losses. The second and sometimes the greatest danger is predators; even the most aggressive cock will not stop your whole henhouse being wiped out by a fox in one night; rats, martins, buzzards, and polecats will all take chickens or their offspring, again none of these things are a reason not to keep them but your management of chickens will need to take all of these considerations in to account.

Feeding

Feeding can be as simple or as complex as you whish to make it; preparatory feeds are available which will take care of all of your chickens needs but for me this is far from ideal most super markets sell cheep chicken and eggs which will have been fed by exactly this means. For me the joy of smallholding is the superior quality food I enjoy from my livestock, this is due to an approach that takes care of my animals at a much higher standard than that of truly commercial factory farm. Smallholders can of course take the same factory farm approach to their livestock but it is not an approach I will advocate or instruct you in.

Feeding your chickens should take care of all of the nutritional needs they have but they will also enjoy variety as we humans do. Good quality high protein grains are the main stay of any poultry species food needs. Barley is one of the best of these grains and would take care of most of your chickens needs regardless of the use of the stock either egg layers or meat birds, but maize will give the meat of any chicken a different richer colour and taste. I have fed free-range chickens on a mix of barley and maize as well as food they can forage from their surroundings and they are hard to beat for flavour or texture, and the eggs from birds fed on the same diet will be unbeatable for flavour. I have experienced a drop off in egg production in birds fed on the same diet for six months or more and simply feeding them on a different grain such as wheat for a month or so seems to bring the production back up again. My policy is now to change the diet of my egg laying birds regularly avoiding the drop in production.

Two very important feeding tips not to forget.

• I. Chickens need water; it’s obvious; I know but if you forget you will pay in more ways than one. Bird health, weight, egg production will all be affected, if you do not give them a plentiful supply of clean water you could find your birds dead.

• II. Chickens need grit this one is not so obvious but it is nearly as important as water, your birds could be on the best diet in the world but if they don’t have grit they will not be able to digest their food. You can buy crushed oyster shell and mix it with their food but this is not necessary if you simply feed them on the ground they will take up soil and grit; this will suffice but of course you will have to feed them in a different place so the ground does not become an infected desert.

Housing needs

Chickens need housing for many reasons, and to be honest most of these reasons are orientated toward human management needs rather than to meet the birds needs. Chickens can and do fair very well on their own without any housing at all, they can avoid predators very affectively by roosting high in trees well before dark. Chickens can also tolerate both high and low extremes of temperature without detrimental effects to their health or longevity.

However chickens kept for food production in some kind of enclosure without trees to roost in will need a secure house to protect them with somewhere to roost as high as possible even if only a foot or so off the floor. If you do allow them to roost in trees and do not provide housing they will also lay their eggs all over the enclosure in any dark secluded place they can find, and you may not find the eggs. A house with roosting perches and nesting boxes that they can lay in is ideal but it has to be impervious to all of the predators mentioned earlier. This normally means you will need to open the house to let the birds out and lock them back in again just before dark. This is a routine that requires some discipline as many a smallholder has lost their hens the night they did not lock the henhouse after they returned late from a party, or the weather was just to foul to go out in.

Reproduction needs to be taken in to account if you whish to have your own hens hatch their own eggs. To help in this a separate house or ark for your broody hen will avoid your broody hen being bullied off of her nest by a more dominant bird. Even if she is only bullied off for a few minuets a day she may hatch her own eggs successfully but all the eggs laid after the first day or so of incubation will be left to die, this will adversely affect the success rate of your reproduction program.

Source: http://www.permacultureeden.com/livstock/chickens-2/

Best laying chickens suitable for smallholders

You may be limited by what your local breeders can supply. Magazines such as “Country Smallholding” have pages of adverts for poultry; if you live in a rural area, the local newspaper might also be a source.

Visiting breeders

Buy poultry from a reputable breeder; if at all possible, pick your hens up, so that you can have a look around. Most breeders will be happy for you to visit first to take a look at some hens and to get a feel for the different breeds. If you are unsure about anything just ask – a good breeder will be happy to answer your questions and to give advice. Be prepared to walk away if you are unhappy with the condition of the birds – don’t be tempted to take on sub-standard birds because you feel sorry for them.

Poultry auctions

Buying from an auction may get you a heap of grief, unless you know what you are doing. However, it’s good experience and very interesting, so it’s worth going along to a poultry sale just for a look, if you are confident that you can keep your hands in your pockets.

Your first flock

Start small; a flock of three hens is a good start (if one dies, you still have two as company for each other until you can restock). In a year or so, add another two or three to the flock. If you fill your accommodation to capacity on day one, in a couple of years you will have a group of middle-aged hens laying very few eggs and you will probably be too attached to them to do anything else than wait for them to die of old age. We’ve had one live to age seven, so it could be a long wait!

We started with three point-of-lay (POL) pullets in the spring of 2002; a Light Sussex, a Rhode Island Red, and a Black Rock. They lived in a small Forsham Cottage Ark that we still have and use.

Hens generally start to lay at about 20-22 weeks old, so the easiest way to start out is to buy point of lay (POL) pullets. These are easy to keep, you’ll get pretty instant eggs and you don’t have any cockerels to deal with because by that age, the two sexes are quite distinct. Naturally, this is the most expensive start up method.

Day old chicks

Another option is to buy day old chicks, but the level of stockmanship required is quite high, or certainly higher than buying POL, so maybe wait until you have some experience before trying this. You will also need a heat lamp or brooder and specialist feed. If the chicks you buy are from a sex-linked breed or strain, then you will be able to buy only female chicks.

Day-old chicksDay old chicks

In sex-linked breeds  / strains, the newly hatched female and male chicks will look quite different; in other breeds, both males and females will look the same (to the untrained eye) until much later, so you will almost certainly get some cockerels in the batch you buy.

Incubating fertilised eggs

You can buy fertilised eggs and hatch your own but, again, you’ll need some specialised equipment such as an incubator and a brooder, if you don’t have a broody hen, and you’ll have to wait 5 months or so for your first egg. The same issue around cockerels exists with hatching eggs as it does with buying day-olds.

The cockerel question

If you buy non-sex-linked day-olds or hatch eggs, you will inevitably get male chicks. Now is the time to think about how you are going to deal with this. The market for breeding cockerels is very limited. The cockerels of laying breeds, even from utility strains, take a long time to fatten and don’t produce the best carcases, but you can eat them. See the later section on raising birds for the table. Abandoning cockerels at a farm gate because you can’t bear to kill them is simply not acceptable.

Ex-battery hens

If you have a battery farm nearby, you might want to try to get some spent layers from there. The output might be a bit unreliable at first but you will certainly have the satisfaction of giving some birds a happy “retirement”. The Battery Hen Welfare Trust may be able to help if you fancy doing this.

How to prepare your chickens for a cold winter

Keeping your chickens fit and healthy through the winter months doesn’t have to be a painful task, with a little preparation and forethought this process can be accomplished with relative ease. When looking to prepare your chicken and their home there a few things that must be considered these include lighting, heating, ventilation and choice of food.

When to get prepared?

Is it ever too early to be prepared? That being said we recommend getting started by the start of October as the first frosts of winter can be potentially fatal to many of the less hardy breeds. Some of the best breeds of chick for cold climate include Ameraucanas, Black Giant, Buff Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks and Russian Orloff.

When the weather starts to worsen you will notice a dramatic decline in the number of eggs being produced by your hens, one great way of combating this problem is to install a light in the coop this can give the impression of longer daylight hours and in many cases keeps eggs coming all year round. It’s best to use a timer system when attempting this method as anything over 10 hours of daylight can disturb this hens sleep cycle.

The best light to use for the job is a simple 40watt bulb with reflector around 6 feet from the floor of the coop; this single bulb should be enough to provide adequate light for 180 square feet!

Heat

Here at the farm we use green house heaters in our main coop this give of low levels of steady heat that stop frost from reaching plants inside the greenhouse but they work in much the same way when it comes to chickens. Be warned overly warm coops interfere with the chicken’s ability withstand cold temperatures in the future.

When insulating the coop be sure to allow decent ventilation as without proper air flow condensation can build up leading to ammonia.

Food

As autumn passes into winter it can be a good idea to start supplementing your chicken’s diet with a higher density vitamin enriched feed. These vitamins can helps hens when molting as well as improving their ability to cope with the cold weather.

6 Great Ways to Get Your Chicken Coop Ready For Winter

When it starts getting cold, the chickens need a little extra T.L.C. to keep up egg production. Winterizing your coop can help keep the chickens happy, healthy and producing.

How you winterize your coop depends on your geographic location. For instance, those that live in the Midwest will see temperatures dip into the negatives, and their coops will need more care compared to those who live in the Pacific Northwest or the South.

No matter where you live, you will have to do some winter chores to keep your chickens clucking merrily along.

6 Ways to Winterize Your Coop

1. Clean Bedding

Ensuring that the chickens have fresh bedding such as straw or wood shavings to lay and roost on will prevent frost bite. For our coop, we like to use hay for our bedding, especially in the wintertime because it retains heat better. This will keep them more active during the day as well as control the smell of chicken droppings until your Spring cleaning. Move all soiled bedding to the compost pile to compost down for Spring or Summer gardens.

2. Coop Inspection

Check out the coop to ensure that predators have not found an entry in. Predators are usually more desperate to find food during winter and you want to protect your flock. During this time, I also like to check the roof of the coop to make sure there aren’t any cracks or holes. As well, check out the roosts and any other furniture to make sure it is still in good condition.

3. Batten the Hatches

During the warmer summer months having vents and hatches on the coop’s roof and floorboard assist with airflow, help to reduce humidity and any toxic ammonia from the hen house. During winter it is best to fasten the vents and hatches to reduce any cold drafts. Another solution is to wrap a portion of the coop with a tarp or plastic sheeting. This keeps moisture out of the coop, protects it from wind and further insulates it. 4-mil polyethylene film is low cost and readily available. Secure it to the chicken coop to ensure that moisture and wind cannot get through. Again, we want to ensure that the chicken’s body temperature stays at an optimum temperature.

4. Heat Lamps

Keep in mind that young chickens will require more body heat compared to a fully grown chicken. Further, the avian reproductive cycle, which is how a hen produces eggs, is stimulated in poultry by increasing day length. 14 hours of light is what a chicken requires to lay eggs and usually get these results during the warmer months. Having a light bulb hooked up to a timer can assist in continued egg laying. An added benefit to this is it creates added warmth to the flock. To provide some warmth, but not too much light, we use a 250 watt bulb in our coop. One heat lamp per 30 chickens will be sufficient. Light fixtures in the coop should be placed above feeders and waterers, and care should be taken to avoid having areas in the chicken house that are shaded from light.

5. Continued Flow of Water

For those of you who have to deal with frozen water trays in the coop, you’re not alone. This continues to be an issue for many keepers of chickens. One solution is to purchase a heated base for the waterer and run a heavy duty extension cord into the chicken coop. Another solution is to check on your chicken’s water more frequently. Bringing warm water out to replace the frozen water will be very welcomed.

6. Dietary Supplements

Adding grains such as corn in addition to their regular diet can add more fat to their bodies and at the same time provide more insulation and energy during winter. Grains shouldn’t replace their entire diet. We usually do 70% scratch and 30% corn. We also continue to supplement their diets with vegetable and fruit scraps for added nutrition.

Signs of Trouble

Check on your flock a few times per day to ensure the outside temperatures are not too harsh. If your chickens are huddled in a corner or making a lot of noise, take some time to make them more comfortable. Further, if chickens are lethargic or not moving, they may be ill and should be cared for.

Frostbite of the feet and combs are very common in winter months. If signs appear, thaw the affected area with cold water, slowly warming it to room temperature. Then apply a coating of petroleum jelly to isolate it from direct contact with the cold. Reapply two to three times during the day. Warming lights are especially helpful to prevent this.

Another sign to look out for during the cold months is a condition called “pasting.” This occurs when their anuses are blocked with droppings. If caught early enough, you can prevent the chicks from dying by slowly and gently removing the blockage with the help of warm water.

With a little extra attention, your coop will stay very happy during the cooler months. All it takes is some time to get it all prepped and ready.

by Tess Pennington See more at: http://www.naturalblaze.com/2013/11/6-ways-to-get-your-chicken-coop-ready.html#sthash.dkXxpScK.dpuf

The Baby Chicks are Here!

Originally posted on Sweet Dreams Creations:

Finally!  The wait is over!  They we’re due to hatch on the 25th and they started hatching on the 24th!  I had been reading allot of blogs lately where their chicks were hatching a day early everyone blaming the heat.  So, I figured mine might just follow along and they did.  4 hatched on the 24th and 1 on the 25th.  Goldie was sitting on 8 eggs, 5 out of 8 not bad and it looks like their all girls!! Yeah!   I do the wing check and it for me works.  Here’s the You Tube video for you to watch if your interested:  Sexing Baby Chicks.

The last few days before they started to hatch, on 2 seperate days, we had hens manage to get into the broody box, while Goldie was out for her daily dusting, and lay eggs, so we had 10 total.  We had planned to…

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Poultry farming turns into money-spinner for ex-accountant

It is the desire to be her own boss that saw Lillian Akinyi Okwiri become one of the most successful poultry keepers in Kisumu.

Mrs Okwiri, 50, quit her job as an accountant after being in formal employment for only six months. To her friends, this was a risky gamble but she was convinced that time was ripe for her to go into self-employment.

“I always dreamt of being my own boss someday and I opted to hasten the process. What worried me most was whether I would still earn as much money as I did when I was employed,” she says.

After quitting her accounting job, she realised that she didn’t have enough money to go into poultry rearing, a market she had realised had few players.
She started with selling second-hand clothes to generate enough cash to venture into poultry keeping.

“I also started making ice-cream from my house and selling it to school-going children. I got a little cash and added it to what I was earning from the clothes business,” she says.

After a few months, she had raised Sh30,000 and was ready for take off. I had no formal training in poultry keeping, but had the urge to make money and that is what has seen me thrive, she says.

“I had done little research and realised that Kenyan traders import poultry products such as eggs from neighbouring counties. I knew that there was money in this venture,” she says.

She started with 150 day-old layer chicks costing Sh100 each and converted one of her bedrooms to house the birds.

After five weeks, the broilers were ready for the market while layers took between four to five months to start laying eggs. Soon she moved the chicken from her bedroom to a structure that could accommodate 600 chicks.

“I used local materials, wire mesh and iron sheets,” she says.

Counting her profits every day, Mrs Okwiri is doing booming business and is an envy of many in Kisumu’s Nyamasaria estate and has a total of 1,000 chicks—700 broilers and 300 layers.

She has turned into a beacon of success for many women who seek advise on poultry keeping.

Years later, does she regret quitting formal employment?

“I have no regrets because I made the right move. Had I clung onto my job then, I wouldn’t have made such impressive strides,” she says.
Mrs Okwiri says she gets at least Sh100,000 every five weeks from selling broilers which costs Sh400 each.

“ I collect close to 10 crates of eggs every day with a crate selling at Sh330,” she says

When business is at its peak, she says she receive orders to supply up to 150 birds per day. ‘‘During such periods, I am forced to wake up as early as 4 am and to hire more casual labourers,” she says.

She mainly sells broilers to hotels and learning institutions in Kisumu.

Mrs Okwiri says to attain her success, a lot has to be put into taking care of the chicken.

“A lot has to be done like buying feeds and drugs and these must be obtained from accredited dealers to guarantee quality. In the five weeks of rearing, the broilers use around five bags of starter mash which goes at Sh2,250 a bag and 17 bags of finisher pellet, with a bag selling at Sh2,850,’’ she says.

“The layers also eat a lot of food.” She says the chicks also have to be vaccinated against New Castle disease and given multivitamins.

Buying of feeds and drugs is a challenge because the prices go up but you have to feed the chicks to weigh more in order to fetch better prices,” she says. To those planning to go into business, she says: ‘‘Start-ups don’t pick up as fast as one may want but patience pays.”

She encourages women and youth to learn to be self-dependent.

“They should not just sit by waiting for miracles to happen; I challenge them to take their destiny into their own hands. I have a very supportive husband but that does not mean that I should not work,” she says.

County contracts to kill geese, bird lovers cry fowl

Geese

The distinctive Canada geese that populated the GastonCountyPark in Dallas were a joy to many who watched them through the years.

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But the birds’ excessive waste also prompted complaints from numerous visitors. So county officials, who agreed the flock had grown too large, paid to have 144 of the birds rounded up and euthanized Tuesday.

That decision to eliminate the entire flock ruffled the feathers of Carolina Waterfowl Rescue, an Indian Trail nonprofit that says the county acted too hastily, when it could have simply had the fowl relocated.

GastonCountyParks and Recreation Director Cathy Hart said the county was simply reacting to a longstanding problem the best way it knew how.

“It’s pretty common for (overpopulation) to happen around ponds at schools, parks and airports,” she said. “This is a (euthanization) service that is used a lot, unfortunately.”

Carolina Waterfowl Rescue Director Jennifer Gordon said the county never made its intentions clear. Her organization had been trying to work with GastonCounty to manage the problem, and had already relocated some of the birds. Had they known the entire Canada goose flock was going to be destroyed, they would have relocated them all, she said.

“The bigger issue here is that all animals deserve to be treated humanely,” said Gordon. “They had options to do that and they didn’t use them.”

Birds seen as a nuisance

Non-migratory Canada geese populations have been on the rise in recent years. They stand out with their brownish gray bodies, black heads and necks and white face patches.

Yet while the birds are attractive, their droppings are less appealing to the nose and shoes. A single goose can produce a half-pound of feces per day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division.

The waste often coated the grassy areas around the park’s ponds, athletic fields, picnic areas, concert stage, restrooms and parking lots. Before summer events such as Pops in the Park, the county had to repeatedly spend time and money power-washing areas and cleaning up feces, Hart said.

“It was really time-consuming,” she said. “We had citizens complaining they couldn’t even use the trails out there because of all the geese droppings.”

Canada geese are federally protected. But their increasing reputation as a nuisance has prompted the USDA to offer an option for removing them. Park staff must first try other approved methods to disperse geese and prevent them from reproducing, said USDA spokeswoman Carol Bannerman.

GastonCounty paid the Wildlife Services division $1,666 to send a team to the park Tuesday morning. The geese are moulting — shedding old feathers and growing new ones — and unable to fly away. So specialists herded the birds into a temporary corral, placed them in poultry crates and transported them elsewhere to be euthanized via gas.

“They are euthanized following guidelines approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association … and disposed of as required by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit,” Bannerman said.

No warning?

Hart said she made it clear to Gordon in early May that Carolina Waterfowl Rescue could remove any of the birds it wished to, and relocate them to a sanctuary.

“On May 23, they came out and removed a number of the birds,” she said. “We’ve allowed them to do that any time they wanted.”

About 10 domestic ducks and geese are still at the park, Hart said.

Gordon said it’s not normal for her nonprofit to rescue an entire flock of Canada geese.

“Realistically, we wouldn’t come in and take every bird from a park,” she said. “We left what was a very reasonable amount of geese out there.”

Rebecca Duffeck, a Carolina Waterfowl Rescue volunteer who lives near the park, has looked after the geese and ducks for years. She said there were no more than 40 to 50 Canada geese living there.

Gordon and Duffeck say Hart never divulged that a contract was being signed to wipe out the entire flock.

“We were talking to them, offering to help them with the geese and at no point did they tell us what they were really planning,” Gordon said.

The nonprofit could have transported the birds to a 300-acre preserve it owns in South Carolina, she said.

Hart said the county recently put up signs at the park directing visitors to not feed the geese. In recent years, park officials also tried measures such as enclosing picnic shelters near the ponds with temporary fencing, spraying the ground with goose repellant, allowing the grass to grow taller around the lake, and even removing fertilized eggs.

Gordon disputes that adequate steps were taken to manage the goose population. She believes the county violated the USDA’s requirement.

“There was no planning or thought put into this,” said Gordon. “If they don’t have a management plan, the geese will just return. And they can’t just keep killing geese over and over.”

Source: http://www.gastongazette.com/spotlight/county-contracts-to-kill-geese-bird-lovers-cry-fowl-video-1.164074#