Kids & Chickens: Getting ready for a chicken show

Our family started on a unique adventure this spring when my two girls (ages 4 and 7) decided that they wanted to show chickens at our fair, which lands yearly on Labor Day weekend. With this in mind, we headed for the feed store at the end of April to check out their selection of baby chicks. Since this was the girls’ first year showing and they are both rather small, I thought a bantam breed would work well. Bantams are about 1/4 the size of a regular chicken and would be easier for my little girls to handle. However, when we got the store we saw that the tubs of bantams were straight run only – meaning we did not know if we would be getting males or females. We knew we did not want to have roosters, and so we moved to plan B and decided to go with a standard breed chicken for each of them. These birds had been sexed at the hatchery and so we were fairly confident that they were, in fact, females (pullets). We picked up four chicks – a Buff Orpington, a Golden Sexlink, a Barred Rock, and an Easter Egger.

Thebaby chick girls were very excited with their new chicks! We set them up in a warm brooder and let them settle in. We gave them several days to acclimate, and then “show training” began. The girls started to handle each chick for 5 – 10 minutes each day (turns out baby chicks and small children have similar attention spans). At this time, it really helped that each chick was a different color – so we could tell who had already had their turn being held and petted! SAFETY NOTE: We kept a jug of hand sanitizer right next to the brooder. As soon as the girls were done holding the chicks, feeding, watering and cleaning, they each got a squirt until we got into the house where they would wash their hands thoroughly with soap.

Sadie and chickAs the chicks grew, the girls continued to try and handle them on a daily basis. I learned it is best to get them into this habit when the chicks are very small. We were out of town for two weeks and had someone else taking care of the birds for us. During that time, they grew significantly and the girls were a bit intimidated by their larger size when it came time to start handling them again. The tamer you can get the birds when they are still small, the better.

We moved the chicks out of the brooder and into a large pen inside our barn towards the end of June. While this was a much needed change from the chicken’s perspective (they had outgrown the brooder), it was no longer simple for the kids to scoop one out of the tub to pick them up. The kids now had to learn how to calmly and quietly move around the birds, get them into a corner and pick them up without causing widespread panic. This was definitely a trial and error period – at times my kids can make way more noise trying to be quiet than they do at normal volume.

Once we hit August, real show training had to commence. Up to this point, the girls had simply been catching and holding their birds. Now, though, we realized that more would be required of them at the show. Our next installment will cover Advanced Show Prep (Hint – chicken bathing is involved – you don’t want to miss it!).

Bird Flu – facts and prevention

Avian flu makes the news whenever outbreaks occur in the United States, like a recent

Call a veterinarian immediately if you suspect a serious health issue.
Call a veterinarian immediately if you suspect a serious health issue.

ones in Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Minnesota and Washington. People who keep backyard chickens should be aware of the risks, as it is a disease that can devastate a flock and potentially spread to people. Fortunately, taking simple precautions reduces the odds that either chickens or humans will contract it or many other infectious diseases.

According to the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control avian flu is caused by one of several viruses. Most don’t infect humans but some strains can jump from birds to people and be fatal. In most human cases a person contracted it by handling a diseased or dead bird and came in contact with bird saliva, nasal secretions or feces.

There is no evidence that the disease can be is a threat when eating well cooked eggs or meat.   Initial human symptoms can include fever, coughing, muscle ache and eye infections. The disease can lead to other medical complications.

Although avian flu is fairly common in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Europe it’s rare in North America. According to the World Health Organization one of the most effective ways of limiting the spread of an outbreak is to control the movement of chickens. Usually a government will prohibit importing chicken or chicken products from an infected country and state or local governments usually ban any movement of chickens in or out of infected areas.

Large chicken farms and hatcheries practice strict biosecurity procedures to reduce the odds that their flock will become infected.  People with a few birds in a backyard coop often are too casual about preventing disease.

Avian flu is unlikely to strike isolated backyard flocks. Disease transmission in humans and chickens is similar. People who have minimal contact with others are unlikely to catch a contagious disease. Cram them together in an airplane, classroom or theater and just one sick person can spread the disease to others. Chickens are normally very healthy and the family that buys a few chicks from a disease-free hatchery and raises them isolated from other chickens reduces the contagion threat. Unfortunately, many backyard flock owners visit other people’s coops. Sometimes they adopt a friend’s surplus birds. Both actions could bring a disease into a healthy flock.

To reduce the odds of infection by many diseases and the chance that a person could catch avian flu follow these basic safety precautions:

 

  • Keep the flock isolated.  Don’t bring in outside birds that may be exposed to disease.
  • Invite anyone who keeps chickens to wash and change clothes before visiting your birds.    Better yet, share pictures instead of providing direct contact with birds. Don’t adopt stray or orphan chickens. Be cautious and use good biosecurity measures when attending “coop tours” and poultry shows, which can spread diseases quickly.
  • Keep the coop clean and dry.  Moisture breeds disease.
  • Keep the chickens healthy by always providing a balanced diet, clean water and fresh air.
  • Isolate ill birds from the rest of the flock.
  • Wear rubber gloves when butchering and dressing chickens, and thoroughly clean knives and other tools used in the process.   Dipping tools and soiled gloves in a bleach solution kills pathogens.
  • Limit the flock’s access to migratory wild birds, especially waterfowl, which can move germs from place to place.
  • Avoid direct contact with dead or diseased birds. Wash thoroughly and change into clean clothes after any contact.
  • If a family member develops flu symptoms tell the physician that chicken contact was likely.

Chickens are normally wonderfully healthy and millions of people worldwide live in close proximity with them without ever suffering a health problem. The chance that someone with a backyard flock will catch avian flu from is remote but possible. Understanding the disease and practicing simple preventative measures reduces the odds even more.

Are Your Chickens Ready to Lay Eggs?

You’ve got your baby chicks all tucked into the brooder – but how long before they start providing you with breakfast? How do you know when they are ready to starting laying? This handy info graphic is here to help you out!

When do young hens become ready to lay eggs? What sort of nest boxes do they need? How long do they wait between producing eggs?

Click the image to be able to zoom in as needed.

 

Setting Up the Brooder

Do you have questions about setting up your brooder for baby chicks? Listen in as Nutrena Poultry Specialist Twain Lockhart gives helpful tips for setting up your brooder.

Please leave questions and comments below.

How to Catch and Hold a Chicken

At some point, all poultry owners will need to catch and handle their birds – for transport, medical treatment, or other reasons. Watch as Nutrena Poultry Specialist Twain Lockhart shows you the proper way to catch and hold a chicken.

Have more questions or comments? Leave them here on the blog!