It’s that time of year again, we’re just under two months away from the Ohio National Poultry Show. It’s an exciting time in the competitive poultry world, not only are we coming up on fall show season, but much buzz has been made around the upcoming release of the documentary film, ‘Chicken People’. This film chronicles the road to Columbus, and what it takes to have that prize-winning entry. The film will be released on September 23rd, but in the meantime if you haven’t seen the trailer, check it out:
We’d love to hear your poultry showing stories, so feel free to leave comments about your experiences and what you love best about exhibiting poultry!
Introducing your birds to dogs (and vice versa)
Just like the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. When you are bringing baby chicks home or adding adult birds to your backyard, the first impression is important. It’s crucial to know that a period of adjustment and acclimation is normal. Everything may not go smoothly the first day – but that’s okay. The key in the
process is to make sure that your birds are protected at all times.
Introducing dogs to chickens can be a touchy situation and is something best handled when you have some help. Having a dog that is trained and obedient to at least a “stay” command and to recall on command is very helpful in this situation. The main thing is to use common sense – dogs will likely be tempted by chickens if they’ve never been around them before. Do not leave dogs and chickens alone together until you’re sure the dog can be trusted.
To start introductions, begin slowly. The first step is to allow the dog near the birds while they are securely enclosed in their run or a cage. Give the animals some time to see and smell each other and grow accustomed to the noises, motions and actions of the other. Do this repeatedly until the animals are calm. After that step is successful, try holding your chickens while your dog is secured, either by a helper or in a kennel and again gauge everyone’s reactions.
When you feel comfortable, you can try letting your birds free range in your yard or garden area with the dog on a leash. Again, gage the situation and reactions. Every animal is different and their response to this situation will vary. Once the dog is used to the chickens being in and around the area and is not negatively responding, you can try a supervised instance of everyone mixing together. This introduction will take time, so don’t rush things and make sure you are patient with your dog; this is a big adjustment to their normal way of life.
Keep in mind, however, that some dogs simply do not mix well with chickens. For example, some breeds of dogs are bred specifically to hunt and capture birds. In these dogs, the prey drive may be extremely hard to overcome. Signs a dog is exhibiting prey drive can include intense staring, ignores owner or other distractions, refuses to move, body tenses, motionless, crouching, rigid movements, lunging, lips twitching, pupils dilated.
If issues persist, you may want to look into professional dog training or you may need to come to the realization that free ranging your chickens with your dog is simply not an option.
What if my dog eats my chicken’s food?
When keeping dogs and chickens it is important that you don’t give the dog free run of the coop or main housing area. This is mainly due to the fact that ingesting some germs that may be present in your bird’s droppings (think salmonella) could make them sick.
The un-medicated food that you feed your chickens likely won’t cause any harm to your dog unless they eat a huge amount of it. If you are using a medicated food for your chickens, the medication is not approved for use for dogs. The tougher chore will be to keep your birds away from your dog’s food. This food is high in protein and often becomes a flock favorite once they discover where the food bowl is kept!
Best practice is to keep dogs and birds water and feeding stations separate to help reduce the spread of germs as much as possible and keep diets (both the dogs and the birds) as balanced as possible.
What about disease?
All animals can carry disease, and birds and dogs are no different. The main diseases that can be passed on to dogs may be able to be prevented by keeping the dog and birds in separate enclosures; many types of germs are borne in the fecal matter/dust of birds and contracted when inhaled by the dog. One of the top concerns of bird to dog transfer is salmonella. These bacteria are shed in the feces, so a dog that has access to the chicken coop may be more susceptible. Keep the coop and run area closed to the dog, even if birds are out ranging. Coccidiosis, while present in both birds and dogs, is species specific. This means the strains carried by poultry cannot be passed to dogs and vice versa.
The basic care of meatbird chicks is similar to other types of chicks. You’ll need to provide a heat source along with free choice fresh water and appropriate feed. An important part of raising meatbirds is allowing for enough space for them to grow. With a growth rate that is
second to none, these birds will become too big for a brooder that seems the right size in just a week or two. Make sure to plan for expansion of your brooder to allow the space to get bigger along with the chicks. A dry and clean brooder is always essential; this will keep the birds comfortable, discourage the development of flies, and help prevent disease.
Dual purpose breeds are traditional breeds like Orpingtons, Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, etc. They can be raised for eggs or meat. These birds are the slowest to finish and are typically harvested around 22 weeks of age. They have less developmental problems than hybrid meat breeds, and they will usually yield less meat.
Red Rangers are a type of meat chicken that provides a ‘happy medium’ between dual purpose breeds and Cornish Cross. They should be harvested around 12 – 14 weeks. They aren’t as delicate as Cornish Cross and have less developmental problems. In addition, they do better foraging than a Cornish. Their meat yield is in between a Cornish and dual purpose.
Cornish Cross is a hybrid and is the most common meat chicken. It makes up the majority of meat purchased in stores or consumed in restaurants. Cornish are very economical with their feed to meat conversion, which means they grow very fast – they
are usually ready to harvest around 8 weeks! A few things to be aware of with this breed: because of their rate of growth they can have problems with organ failure and leg issues. These birds do not do well when comingled with other breeds – it’s best to keep Cornish separate. Additionally, they are ONLY suitable for meat production – do not try to keep them long term.
For dual purpose chicks, you may choose to feed a meatbird ration from the start. However, if you have straight run chicks and are not sure which are males, you can start the batch on chick starter and then switch the ones you will harvest to meatbird feed once their gender becomes apparent.
For faster growing hybrid birds, you’ll want to feed a specific meatbird ration from day one. This will ensure that the birds are getting certain amino acid levels and protein amounts to encourage muscle development and growth. Because meatbirds have been developed to put on muscle mass quickly, the ration must be balanced to make sure that nutrients are present for skeletal and internal organ development as well. If the correct ration is not fed, the birds are more apt to fall victim to common maladies like organ failure and leg issues. Follow these simple feeding recommendations to help avoid complications:
In previous articles, we’ve covered selecting chickens for kids as well as preparing your children and chickens to go to a poultry show, including how to wash your birds.
At this point my two girls (ages 5 and 7), were as ready as they would ever be to show a chicken. The birds were somewhat trained, the kids were fairly well prepared, and we hit the road.
We arrived at the fairgrounds the evening before the show and took the birds to the waiting area.
A vet check is required at our fair for all incoming animals. The vet looks to make sure that the bird has no nasty communicable diseases that could spread to the rest of the birds.
Once we were cleared to unload, we took the birds into the barn and got directions from the barn manager as to which pens were ours.
Then we put the birds in and immediately filled the waterers and feeders to make them feel a bit more at home.
The girls were hesitant to leave their birds in a strange place all alone that first night, but eventually we decided they were in good hands and headed for home.
The next day was the big one – show day! We began by getting the birds fed, watered and checked up on.
They were in good shape – more so than my girls who needed clean shirts and hair done and new jeans, etc. etc. The first rule when showing is to always look professional.
A collared and nicely pressed long sleeve shirt is a great idea. Tuck your shirt in and make sure your hair is off your face.
We talked about smiling and keeping their eyes on the judge while they were showing and – most important of all – don’t let your chicken get away!
The time for their class finally arrived and I have to admit, they did great! We had lots of adults on hand to help, but those kids had their birds in control (well, mostly).
Each one did great and showed off their birds as well as answered questions from the judge. They all learned valuable skills and experience and earned beautiful ribbons!
They were proud of themselves when the show was over and really enjoyed showing all their friends at the fair their birds.
All in all our chicken showing experience was a great one – and I have a feeling that we won’t be strangers to the poultry barn in the future!
In the last article, we covered choosing chicks and getting them tame and calm. My kids (4 and 7) worked on this skill throughout the summer, and with the fair fast approaching on Labor Day weekend we realized we needed to get serious about the details of showing chickens. What did we need to do to prepare? What should my girls know? What would the chickens be asked to do? We asked some friends who had chicken showing experience, looked online, and investigated other community resources, like our extension office and 4-H clubs. Here’s what we found out:
Chicken Skills – the chicken should be able to stand on a table during the show with minimal holding by the handler. It should be calm and be able to be approached/held/handled by the judge without getting its “feathers ruffled”, so to speak. We practiced for this by setting up a small table with a cloth that provided good footing for the birds. The girls would set their birds on the table and to get them used to it at first we gave them small treats – like pieces of grain, etc. This distracted them and made them look forward to standing on the table.
To get them used to be handled even more, the girls would recruit their dad or I to play “judge”. As pretend judges, we would approach the birds and feel their legs and feet, stretch out their wings, and feel their combs and pet around their faces.
Showman Skills At our fair, the rules clearly state that the child must be able to carry their own bird to the table and handle it. We practiced this a lot – for my 4 year old it was hard to get that big bird up and into her arms (she has a Buff Orpington named Peach). With practice came competence – my daughter became competent at carrying and Peach became competent at being manhandled. The girls also had to know basic information about their birds. We practiced with questions like:
Then came the time when we realized that the chickens would need a bath in order to be clean and ready for the fair. And so the adventure began.
To be honest I think I was more nervous about this step than either my kids or the chickens! It just seems a little unnatural, doesn’t it? Dipping a chicken in a tub of water? At any rate, about two weeks before the show we gave it a shot, following the advice given in this video by my colleague and friend Twain Lockhart. And everything went fine. The chickens, I believe, were so flabbergasted at what was happening that they didn’t react. At all. They went into a weird chicken paralysis as we dunked them, swished them, rinsed them, and dried them. That was just fine with me. We repeated the process the night before the fair with equally good results and got ready to go to the fair.
Next installment – At the show!
There comes a time in every chicken’s life (usually around 14 – 18 months old) where they start to lose all their feathers, look gangly and downright ugly. But don’t be alarmed! This is a natural process that occurs annually. This process is called molt.
What is molt? Molt is the natural shedding of feathers and regrowth of new ones. This usually happens in the fall as day length shortens. It is the chickens way to refresh old feathers and grow new ones for the coming winter. Molt happens in an expected order, starting at the head, down the back, breast and ending on the wings and tails.
There are two types of molt that chickens can go through, hard and soft. A hard molt means all feathers are lost at nearly the same time. A soft molt, however, means feathers are lost over a longer period of time. Chickens use molt to build up their nutrient reserves and typically slow or even stop laying eggs during this time. Though they are not laying eggs, it is important that your chicken continues to need a high quality diet since feathers consist of approximately 85% protein!
How to help your chickens get through molt
The best thing for your chickens in molt is to offer a feed that is high in quality and protein such as NatureWise Feather Fixer™. Feather Fixer™ is a complete feed, so you don’t have to worry about finding other protein supplements to feed along with layer feed during molt. It is simple and easy. In addition, Feather Fixer™ is optimized in other ways; it has organic trace minerals, which are more bio-available to the chicken than regular forms. Especially important are zinc and manganese which are needed for feather growth. This is a newer feed, so ask your favorite retailer about their plans to stock it today!
Another way to help your chickens through molt is to reduce stress as much as possible. Try to avoid handling your chickens, and bringing new birds into the flock, if possible. Molt is a normal process, so your chickens shouldn’t act differently, even though they make look very different. In total, molt will take between 4-16 weeks, depending if it is a hard or soft molt. You do not need to add any medications or other vitamins if you are already feeding a high quality and high protein feed. So don’t panic the next time your chickens start to lose their feathers and stop laying eggs! Instead, use these tips to help ease the process.