Biosecurity in the Coop

If you are raising backyard chickens, you need to consider biosecurity. Not just for your chickens, but for your family as well. Check out this video for Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart’s advice on keeping everyone happy and healthy.

Helpful tips:

  • Don’t kiss your chickens!
  • Wash your hands after you handle chickens
  • Have a pair of “coop shoes” that you do not wear anywhere else
  • Do not borrow equipment from friends
  • If you bring in a chicken from someone, quarantine them for a minimum of three weeks

 

Brooder Maintenance

Got new baby chicks in a brooder? Then you’ll want to know how to keep them warm and clean, so they stay healthy and strong. Listen in as Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart shares tips to keep your brooder in proper condition.

Helpful tips:

  • Baby chicks self-regulate their temperature and will gather together if they’re too cold. 
  • If you see the chicks huddled together at one side, that is a sign there may be a draft.
  • Put newspaper down underneath the pine shavings to make cleanup easier.
  • Clean the brooder once every couple of days.

Getting Birds for the First Time

Interested in starting a backyard chicken flock? Wondering what you need to know before you bring home those cute, fluffy, little chicks? Listen in as Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart gives a quick overview of what you need to consider!

Helpful tips:

  • Make sure you can legally have chickens on your property.
  • Start with laying hens.
  • It is best to start small, with four to six chickens at most.

Feeding Chick Starter

If you are bringing home baby chicks soon, you’ll need to know what to feed, and how to feed it. Listen in as Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart shares tips on properly feeding chicks for a healthy start and a long life.

Helpful tips:

  • Use baby chick starter crumble. Lay crumble calcium content is too high and may damage kidneys of the chicks.
  • Chicks may pick out larger pieces of crumble if they have a hard time eating them.
  • Feed chicks as much as they want as they self-regulate.
  • Medicated chick starter helps to prevent coccidiosis. It is not an antibiotic.

 

Getting the Brooder Ready for Baby Chicks

Learn what the most important components of a brooder are for raising baby chicks. From the types of brooder containers, to lighting, to bedding to use, you’ll know all the key tips to keep your chicks happy and healthy in the brooder.

 

Helpful tips:

  • An old stock tank, plastic tote or cardboard box work well to hold the chicks and keep the heat in.
  • Make sure heat lamp is secured.
  • Both clear and red bulbs work fine. Red bulbs will reduce cannibalism.
  • Chicks like to scratch in the feeder and will waste a lot of feed when they’re young.
  • Use baby chick starter feed for the first 16 weeks.

 

Chickens in the Garden

Few foods are as appealing to a hungry chicken as a bunch of young lettuce or spinach sprouts poking through the spring soil. Given the chance, a few hens will quickly devour plants intended for their owner’s kitchen.

Ironically, few soil additives are as appreciated by lettuce, spinach and other vegetables as chicken manure. Plants seem to leap from the ground and produce human food in abundance when stimulated by the droppings that chickens produce every day.

The trick to achieving both healthy chickens and an abundant garden is managing the flock in a way that the hens help the gardener instead of their gobbling down valued veggies.

Here are a few ways to manage a flock for garden abundance:

The Double-Run System

Probably the best and easiest way to manage a flock and garden is to create a double run. The chicken run is simply the fenced in area where the birds enjoy daylight hours lounging, dusting their feathers, and foraging for seeds, insects, tender sprouts, and bits of stone that helps their digestion. Over the course of the day they deposit their droppings randomly.

Most coops have just a single run, but often the owner can convert this into a double-run system. The bigger and sunnier the area the better.

Stretch a wire mesh fence six or eight feet tall to split the run roughly in half. Devise a way to allow the chickens to access only one side of the run at a time. The rest is easy.

In one gardening season let the hens into only one side. Plant the garden in the other. Next year, reverse it. It’s an outstanding way to rotate crops and nutrients.

Seasonal Helpers

Many flock owners don’t have enough room to create the double-run system described above. They can still use chickens to help with gardening chores.

For most common garden vegetables, it’s vital to keep the birds excluded during the growing season. Otherwise they’ll harvest the crops. However, usually there are several weeks after the snow melts but before it’s warm enough to plant seeds. Come fall once the season’s last vegetables are harvested, there is often a long cooling window of time until the ground freezes and snow falls. These are prime times for chickens to enjoy gleaning tasty morsels from the garden.

Chickens have superb vision, strong legs and feet, and nimble pointed beaks. They gleefully spend hours scratching up the soil. Humans might call it tilling. Their sharp eyes spot tiny weed seeds and insect eggs and larvae. Their pointed beaks snatch them from the soil and turn them into delicious protein filled food. Chickens remove the seeds and bugs that can pester next year’s vegetable plants and convert them to food.

Turn a flock loose in early spring or late fall and hens will usually head right for the rich garden soil hiding delicious goodies, but there’s a way to encourage them to target the places that need the most chicken foot rototilling. Bait them by scattering a few handfuls of dried mealworms or black oil sunflower seeds – those in the hull – in the garden and rake them gently into the soil. Hens love mealworms and sunflower seeds. In the process of hunting these goodies they’ll loosen and soften the soil and discover hidden insects and weed seeds.

Excluding Chickens from The Garden

Many people can’t let their chickens forage in the garden, but they can still blend vegetable and chicken husbandry. It’s simple. Weeds and vegetable waste mixed with chicken manure and manure-laden litter decay into outstanding compost. Work the compost into the soil before seed planting and watch the vegetables flourish upward.

Much research is being done on the benefits of using chickens to restore degraded grasslands in China and Europe. Essentially scientists are finding how helpful it is to let hens access land. Dr. Carl Rosier works for the Rodale Institute at Etzel’s Sugar Grove Farm near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, studying ways to improve soils in cropland. “Chicken manure stimulates plant growth and increases soil productivity, water holding capacity, and nutrient retention. In a nutshell chickens, when incorporated into the garden correctly, can help bring balance to the soil ecosystem,” he said.

Many families that keep chickens also enjoy growing beans, tomatoes, and many other vegetables. It feels good to bring both fresh eggs and crops into the kitchen. Meshing chickens with gardening is a perfect way to maximize food production while improving the soil’s health.

Feeding Chickens in Winter

The days are getting shorter, the girls are finishing up their molts, and you are getting less eggs as winter approaches. You might be wondering, “is this normal?” The answer is, yes, it’s perfectly normal.

Chickens need about 16 hours of light per day to produce eggs, with the exception of some over-eager first year hens who may lay throughout winter. But with the shortened daylight hours, and the cold weather requiring more of their energy resources be directed to keeping their body temperatures where the need to be, egg production will go down.

Chicken in the snow

Just because your ladies have slowed down on their egg production, or even stopped, however, doesn’t mean they need less nutrition. Continuing to feed a quality, nutritious, energy-providing diet, just like you would through the warmer months, will help your girls continue some egg production and provide them the energy reserves they require to stay warm and fit. It will also help them show up next spring in prime condition to start laying regularly again.

You may hear some chicken owners say they feed a cheap layer feed, or even nothing but scratch in winter, because it is cheaper and “they aren’t laying anyway”. If you pay attention, these are often the same folks that lose birds in the winter, or their birds look pretty rough come spring time. Scratch grains should never make up more than 10% of any birds diet – or what they can clean up in about 5 minutes.

Don’t forget to provide grit throughout the winter as well, as they may not be able to find it on their own due to snow and mud.