5 Tips To Keep Snakes Away From Chicken Coops

keep snakes away from chicken coop

Making sure your chickens are safe should be one of the top priorities of any keeper.

While adult chickens are more likely to kill a snake than the other way around, chicken eggs and young chicks can be eaten by larger snakes. This danger makes it absolutely necessary to snake proof your chicken coop.

Though it is a myth that commercial snake repellants or devices truly work to keep snakes away, there are a few tips that can help you keep your coop safe without harming or killing any snakes.

After all, snakes are pretty cool animals and their death is not necessary for keeping your flock out of harm’s way.

Are you having problems with snakes getting into your chicken coop?

Keep reading to learn the 5 best tips for keeping your chickens safe, and making sure snakes are not harmed in the process.

How To Keep Snakes Away From Chicken Coops

  1. Clear debris and increase visibility

A great way to prevent snakes from coming into your yard is to make sure there are no places to hide. Snakes are generally shy creatures that need lots of hiding spots from larger predators. This hiding spot could be a log pile, old equipment, wood or sheets of metal, bushes and even tall areas of grass.  Snakes will be a lot less likely to appear if you make sure your yard and your chicken coop is free of debris, overgrown areas and patches of long grass.

  1. Seal any small holes in your coop

Only bigger snakes like rat snakes, bull snakes and large corn snakes really pose any threat to your chickens. Even these larger species pose very little danger to adult chickens and will only consume younger chicks if given the chance. That being said, these larger species can easily squeeze themselves into small holes, and making sure your coop is properly sealed is a great measure to keep snakes out. Any holes that are larger than a half an inch should be sealed. Chicken wire is not recommended around your coop as it is usually big enough that snakes can make their way through the gaps. Once they are through, they may consume a small chick and be too big to get back out again!

  1. Use hardware cloth or wildlife friendly netting

Cloth or netting can help keep snakes from getting into areas that they are unwelcome. You can use hardware cloth or a fine mesh around fences, chicken runs, and even the base of your coop to keep snakes out. Some people suggest bird netting, but this is a really dangerous option for wildlife. Not only can snakes get caught up in it and killed but birds, deer and other larger wildlife can become entangled and die. A better option is smaller mesh (with .5cm or smaller openings), or hard plastic sturdy netting that won’t get caught on snake scales. These wildlife friendly options still work to keep snakes out of your coop, but will be a much safer alternative.

  1. Keep rodents away from your coop

Since the primary diet of most snakes is rodents, having rodents around your coop can actually attract snakes. Mice, rats and chipmunks hanging out around your chickens will encourage snakes to stay in the area as they have a steady food source. To keep rodents away, you should ensure that all your chicken feed and grain is properly sealed in rodent proof containers. You can also bring in your chicken’s feeders at night or use feeders that rodents will be unable to steal from. If your rodent problem is particularly bad, you can dump out the water overnight and refill it in the morning. Taking away the food and water source for rodents will help keep them away from your yard and therefore help keep snakes away. Lastly, keep the area around your coop as clean as possible. Pick up any stray food after feeding and you will likely see less rodents running around.

  1. Make sure you maintain your coop

Making all these changes to keep snakes away won’t work if you don’t maintain them. As your coop ages, you will likely see more and more small holes that need to be filled, mesh and fences that need to be replaced, and an increase in vulnerable areas that predators can exploit. Making sure you are maintaining your coop and keeping the general area tidy and debris-free will be the best long-term strategy to keep snakes away.

FAQs

Will A Chicken Fight A Snake?

Usually chickens are not keen on fighting snakes and when given the choice, they will flee. However, some territorial chickens that have a strong desire to protect their chicks will take on the challenge. Mature chickens often have no problem killing snakes and the result of their fight almost always ends with the snake’s death.

What Can I Put Around My Chicken Coop To Keep Snakes Away?

There is no specific snake repellant that works nor is there a device that will magically keep snakes away, though many companies trying to sell products want you to believe that. Snake traps may help keep snakes away from your coop, but most of them are also inhumane and usually lead to the death of the reptile. Glue traps in particular should always be avoided as once stuck, it’s almost impossible to remove the snake and they will usually succumb to the elements or injury. The best way to keep snakes away is prevention. Making the area predator proof, clean, and free of rodents are a few steps that can help ensure snakes stay away.

Conclusion

You don’t have to kill or harm wild snakes in order to keep your chickens safe. Commercial snake repellants are ineffective and traps will often lead to the death of any who are caught by it. Thankfully, there are a variety of effective methods that will ensure the safety of your flock while posing no danger to native wildlife. Keeping your coop clean, removing debris and grass that may block visibility, sealing holes, using wildlife friendly netting, avoiding attracting rodents and making sure your coop is properly maintained will give snakes no reason or chance to infiltrate your coop.

Let us know if these tips have worked for you in the comments below.

 

 

 

What To Know Before Building Your Own Chicken Coop

backyard chicken on grass

Are you looking to build a coop for your first flock of backyard chickens? This article has everything you need to know about building a safe coop for a happy flock.

The perfect chicken coop protects your birds from heat, cold, weather, predators, and diseases, while also being comfortable for them and accessible for you.

I’ve had chickens in my backyard for decades, and in that time, we’ve gone through at least three chicken coops. Every time we build, there are new lessons to be learned, but the fundamental principles always stay the same. The perfect chicken coop is big enough to house the whole flock, sturdy enough to withstand the worst weather, and safe enough to keep out the most determined predators. Perhaps most importantly, it is easy for you, the owner, to clean, maintain, and keep in the best possible shape. This keeps your hens safe and healthy as long as possible. In this article, we’ll break down the things you need to know before building such a perfect coop.

  1. Choose a plan that meets all your needs. There is no one-size-fits-all perfect chicken coop plan or design that will work for every flock owner, but there are a number of universal concerns everyone should consider before picking a coop plan. One of the big ones is capacity: How many and what kind of chickens is the coop able to safely hold? How much space your birds will need will depend on a number of factors. Free-ranging birds or birds with a run will need significantly less space than birds that will be confined all day; roosters generally need a bit more space than hens; and bantam breeds can usually get by with less floor space but need more vertical space. Your personal accessibility needs – how well you can get into the coop to clean and collect eggs – is another major concern people often overlook.
  2. Pick a location that will keep your girls safe and cool. As with plans, there is no hard and fast rule about what makes the perfect location, only a series of concerns to balance against your own needs and preferences. Shade is a big one; placing the coop out of direct sunlight can help keep your flock from overheating. However, building your coop directly under the trees can run afoul of another concern, which is accessibility to predators. Hawks will see a flock that lives directly under a sturdy tree as easy prey, and ground-based predators will more easily access your coop if it is surrounded by good hiding places. Finally, human accessibility is key. Building a chicken coop can take anywhere from a weekend to about two weeks, and maintaining a flock in one more than five years. Consider how far you want to schlep building materials, tools, chicken feed, and eggs to and from the coop. As you may be doing this every day for half a decade, reconsider before picking the spot furthest away from the house.
  3. Add enough ventilation for all seasons. It’s hard to think of a few wall vents as a lifesaving design feature, but for a chicken coop, having proper ventilation is absolutely crucial. In fact, it’s one of the best things you can do to keep your girls safe and healthy. A well-ventilated coop will bring in lots of clean air, which will help stop potentially fatal respiratory diseases like Newcastle and bird flu from spreading in your flock. In addition, ventilation will help keep your birds cool in hot weather. Even though modern-day chickens are descended from tropical junglefowl, they are much more susceptible to overheating than freezing. However, both heat waves and cold snaps can be dangerous to chickens. The solution is to have a lot of vents at all heights throughout the coop, which will blow cooling drafts over your birds on hot days, but to have those vents be closeable. In the winter, closing all but two vents at the very top of the coop (above the roosts) will help keep your flock both warm and disease-free.   
  4. Use hardware mesh to keep out predators. When it comes to keeping predators out of the coop, hardware mesh (also called hardware cloth) really can’t be beat. Its small holes (much smaller than those in chicken wire) keep out all manner of ground-based predators, and you can’t use too much of the stuff. Use it to reinforce your walls, your floor, your outer fence, and then bury some more at least six inches into the ground around your perimeter. The one place chicken wire is a better choice is for the upper parts of the run fencing, to keep chickens in and other birds out.   
  5. Customize your nesting boxes and roosts for maximum safety and comfort. Nesting boxes (for egg-laying) and roosts (for sleeping) are the two parts of the coop your hens will use most often. They aren’t fussed about what they look like, as long as your nesting boxes are filled with something soft (like wood shavings or straw) and your roosts are the highest available sitting place in the coop. Have 10 inches of space per bird in your roosts, and one nesting box for every three hens, plus one more than you need for if a hen goes broody or picks a favorite box.

Building your own chicken coop can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are only a few crucial elements to keep in mind when building that, if planned for correctly, will result in a sturdy coop and a safe, happy, healthy, productive flock.

 

How a Hen Makes an Egg

The laying cycle is an important part of a hen’s life. An egg, or ovum, starts in the ovary, high in the bird’s body, near the spine. The ovary looks like a cluster of grapes, with some ova larger than others. As the ova mature, they are released into the reproductive tract or oviduct. If there is a rooster in your flock, the egg will be fertilized soon after entering the oviduct. The various structures are added to the egg by the oviduct: egg white, chalazae (“twisters”), and membranes. The final step is the secretion of a calcium coating in the shell gland. Then the fully formed egg passes from the body. The whole process takes about 25 hours. Most hens begin laying at between 16 and 24 weeks of age. Their peak productivity is between 1½ and 2 years of age. While they continue laying throughout their lives, their output decreases by about 10 percent per year after they turn 2 years old.

Eggscellent Layers!

Hand picking eggs

You love getting tasty eggs from your hens, so how can you keep them healthy, happy, and laying? There are a number of factors that can influence how many eggs a hen lays in her lifetime.

Breed

The breed you choose is related to the number of eggs you can expect per bird. Certain breeds or hybrid strains can produce large numbers of eggs.

  • Heritage, dual-purpose breeds, including Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, Australorps, and Wyandottes, are bred for both meat and eggs. They produce a good number of eggs over their lifetimes.
  • Hybrids offer high-powered laying ability because they are crosses between two pure breeds that are good layers. They include ISA Browns, Red Stars, Gold Stars, and Amberlinks.
  • Henderson’s Breed Chart online provides more information on chicken breeds and their laying abilities.

Diet

Did you know that egg quality is closely linked to diet? Many people assume that brown eggs are healthier than white eggs, but shell color makes no difference in the quality of the egg. Your birds’ diet influences the content of their eggs.

  • Free ranging helps your birds produce eggs with better nutritional content, including higher levels of vitamins A, D, and E; omega-3 fatty acids; and deep orange-yellow yolks from beta carotene. They also get activity while looking for bugs, worms, and other tasty goodies!

  • A good commercial diet should provide a large majority of what your birds eat. A good layer ration should support egg-laying and supply essential nutrients that are not easy to find in nature. These nutrients include carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins, as well as amino acids.

  • Extra ingredients that benefit your hens include enzymes, probiotics, essential oils, and yeast culture. These additives help keep your birds’ digestive tracts healthy, support healthy growth, and benefit the immune system. You can find these ingredients in our Nutrena Naturewise feeds.

Water

Eggs are 75 percent water, so having a clean, fresh source available to your birds at all times will help keep them happy, healthy, and laying.

  • Clean waterers to prevent disease. This is a necessity, especially in summer, to prevent the growth of toxic blue-green algae and other harmful microorganisms.
  • Prevent freezing in winter. Cold weather and shorter days provide enough of a challenge for your ladies.

Stressors

Your birds should have a stress-free environment to lay their best! Stress can cause hens to stop laying until the source is removed.

  • Know their stressors. Some common stressors include extreme temperatures, a move to a new coop, change in feed, the presence of predators, new flock members, or construction projects.
  • Stick to a routine! Any changes are stressors. Chickens like daily routines, which are dictated by the time of day. It’s best to let them out at dawn and close them in at dusk.
  • Make changes gradually, like switching to a new diet or moving your birds to a new coop.

Give your birds their best lives so they give you great eggs – and make NatureWise layer feeds part of your flock’s diet!

 

Protect Your Birds Against Avian Flu

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

There are many different strains of viruses that cause avian influenza (AI). These viruses affect wild birds, waterfowl, and backyard chickens, and commercial poultry. Most are not a big threat to you and your birds, but some strains are classified high pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), meaning they cause high rates of death among chickens. These high rates of death can be especially devastating to the commercial poultry industry, so it’s important that backyard chicken keepers be aware of outbreaks of HPAI.

woman with bucket walking to feed poultry

How can you keep your flock safe from the avian flu?

Avian flu and other infectious diseases can be transmitted by other animals, objects, or through the air. The key to keeping your birds from catching avian flu, or any contagious disease, is biosecurity, the practice of isolating your flock from direct or indirect contact with other birds to prevent them from getting an infectious disease.

Here are some steps you can take to prevent transmission of HPAI (or any other infectious disease). It’s a good practice to follow these tips on a regular basis, not just during an HPAI outbreak, however.

Take Measures Around Your Coop

  • Shore up your run with hardware cloth to prevent wild birds from entering.
  • Especially during outbreaks of HPAI or other highly pathogenic diseases, limit free ranging. You might want to build a bigger run and provide more enrichment.
  • Remove spilled feed that might attract wild birds and other wildlife.

Keep Things Clean

  • Clean feeders and waterers regularly.
  • Clean and disinfect new tools and equipment (waterers, feeders, rakes, shovels, scoops, etc.) before you use them.
  • When you clean the new items, prevent the runoff from reaching your coop.
  • Clean and disinfect your coop regularly.
  • Use a dedicated pair of shoes (and even clothing) to enter the chicken area.

Don’t Bring Diseases In

  • Don’t share or reuse materials or equipment.
  • If you interact with poultry that are not yours, disinfect yourself. Before getting in your car, spray down your shoes with a disinfectant approved by U.S. EPA for use against avian influenza and other poultry diseases. When you return home, remove and wash your clothes, shower, and wash your hair before going to your coop.
  • If you’ve been to a farm that has poultry, wash your car, including the undercarriage.
  • If you hunt gamebirds (pheasants, grouse, waterflow, etc.) for sport, be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect any surfaces and items they may have come in contact with.
  • Don’t allow people who have chickens to interact with your birds unless they are wearing disinfected shoes and newly laundered clothes. You may also ask them to use shoe covers or a footbath containing an approved disinfectant. Have them clean off large clumps of material before using the footbath.

Flock Maintenance

  • Keep your birds separated by age and species. Some species and ages are more susceptible to certain disease-causing organisms.
  • Quarantine new birds for at least 30 days.
  • Keep a coop diary and log any changes (egg laying, symptoms, weight loss/gain, etc.)
  • Observe your birds and know signs of illness.
  • Report sick birds or high death rates over a short period of time.

Clinical Signs to Watch For

How do you know if your birds are sick? Watch for the following signs. These signs may not necessarily point to avian flu, but the first two especially are cause for immediate action.

  • Sudden death with no clinical signs
  • Many birds dying in a short period of time
  • Lack of energy or appetite
  • Stumbling or falling down
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of coordination
  • Nasal discharge, snicking, sneezing
  • Legs, wattles, and comb turning purple
  • Swelling around the face (head, comb, wattles, eyelids)
  • Drop in egg production
  • Misshapen or soft-shelled eggs

Report sick birds immediately. Contact your state’s animal health official immediately if you suspect avian flu. Follow the instructions they provide. You can also call the USDA toll-free at 1-866-536-7593.

What to Have on Hand

Keep the following readily available so you can effectively put them to use.

  • Shoe or boot covers
  • Disposable plastic gloves
  • A disinfectant approved by U.S. EPA for use against avian influenza and other poultry diseases
  • Information on signs to watch for
  • Contact information of state or federal officials involved with poultry health

What to Do if a Bird Dies

Collect and preserve the body immediately. Place it in a plastic bag and cool the core by putting it in the refrigerator or in a cooler containing loose or bagged ice.

Contact your state’s animal health official immediately if you suspect avian flu. Follow the instructions they provide. You can also call the USDA toll-free at 1-866-536-7593.

 

More Information from the USDA

Check out the USDA’s Defend the Flock Resource Center for more information. It includes checklists, videos, and other resources at no charge.

Making the Switch: Chick Feed to Layer Ration

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

It’s always a big event when your chickens start to lay! You and your birds put so much hard work and dedication into that moment, and the feed you give your birds is an important part of that first egg, too.  As your birds mature from fuzzy chicks into fully feathered adults, their nutritional needs change. The chick starter/grower they were eating now needs to be replaced with layer ration. How can you support this transition and help them live their best lives as laying hens? 

As your chicks become young adults, their dietary needs change.

Why do I need to switch?

The feed switch from chick starter/grower is critical for the health of your growing birds. So how do the needs of chicks and laying hens differ, and what are the differences between chick starter/grower and layer ration? The short answer is that chicks need feed that supports healthy growth, and hens need feed that supports healthy egg laying.

In their first months of life, chicks’ bodies experience a lot of changes. They need a feed focused on muscle and skeletal growth. Because chicks develop so quickly, their feed requires higher protein, more amino acids, and higher phosphorus levels to support growth. Giving chicks layer ration too soon can cause kidney or liver damage and growth problems.

Layers, on the other hand, need feed that supports egg production. Hens put lots of nutrients into eggs, and the vitamins and minerals that form the shell and its contents come from the hen’s diet. In addition, minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus are important for powering  muscles to lay the egg. Adult laying hens also need higher levels of Vitamin D3 to support calcium absorption.

 

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Either way, you should start with a good layer ration!

When should I switch?

Now that you know the why of switching from chick starter/grower to layer ration, let’s look at when. Most breeds start laying between 20 and 24 weeks of age. It’s important to start providing your hens with a quality layer feed before they begin laying. To prime your hen’s bodies for producing great eggs in the healthiest way possible, you should begin the switch to layer ration at around 16 weeks.

How do I make the transition easy?

Chickens are creatures of habit who like routines and continuity. Because chickens like things to be the same, it’s important to maintain consistency in nutrition. The best way to make a diet transition is to introduce the new food gradually. If you attempt to switch too quickly, you may see the following effects:

  • Digestive upset: A new diet may cause intestinal distress. Signs include a change in the color and consistency of droppings: they may be darker or lighter, or drier or runnier. During a diet change, feeding too many treats also can cause digestive upset and affect the overall health of your birds.
  • Refusal to eat: Chickens like things to be the same. It’s part of being a prey species. Their need for consistency includes their environment, flock mates, feeding times — and their diet. If you switch out a food all at once, they may not recognize the new feed and may stop eating altogether!
  • Overall health decline: Birds who are not happy with their new feed may experience health effects or fail to thrive. They might eat less, thereby getting fewer nutrients. If they free range, they may eat too many things that do not contain the right nutrients, and their bodies will not be ready for the transition to laying.

Now that you know the importance of a gradual transition, you can keep in mind the following to help you transition from one feed to another.  

  • Taste and smell: Formulated feeds from different companies have different ingredients, and it may be easier to stay with one brand, rather than switching brands. For example, Nutrena’s new improved NatureWise line includes essential oils that improve the taste and smell of the feed. If you start your birds on NatureWise Chick Starter Grower, they may move more easily to NatureWise Layer Feed.
  • Visual appearance: The shape of the feed is important, too. Birds are very visual creatures, so they will move more easily to a new feed that looks familiar. Most chick feeds are crumbles, so your birds likely will transition more easily to a feed in crumble form, rather than to a pellet.
  • Nutritional quality: You also want to make sure the new feed is nutritionally similar to or better than your chick feed. If you are feeding a high-quality chick feed, you should seek to maintain the same level of quality in your layer feed. Or better yet, find a layer feed that offers more and better nutrition. A shift to a lower-quality diet could affect the health of your birds at a critical time in their lives.

 

It’s important to transition to a layer ration that is similar to the chick starter you have been feeding. The similarity in texture and nutrients between Nutrena NatureWise Chick Starter Grower (left) and NatureWise Layer Crumble (right) can help your birds make the switch.

What are best practices for switching from chick diet to layer feed?

So how do you switch you birds from chick starter/grower to layer ration? The following are some tips that will help make the transition as easy as possible. You should always start by reading and following the instructions on the manufacturer’s label. Nutrena recommends starting the transition at 16 weeks, and your birds should have made the transition by 18 to 20 weeks. Your chickens may be just fine with this transition, but just in case, we recommend the following protocol.

  • Transition slowly: Mix 25% layer feed with 75% starter/grower feed for a week. Then change to 50% layer feed and 50% starter/grower feed, again for a week. Next, provide 75% layer feed and 25% starter/grower feed for a week. And then finally provide only layer feed.
  • Observe your birds: Monitor the birds closely. Check their crops, watch them eat, and check the feed levels to make sure they are eating. If they are not fed too many treats, layer hens should self-regulate their diet, eating about a quarter pound (1/2 cup) of food per bird per day. You may also want to weigh them every few days. You will need to adjust if there is any sign of weight loss.
  • Slow down the transition: If they stop eating or start losing weight, return to the previous percentages of new and old feed and continue for a few more days. Then try to increase the percentage, and continue increasing, but at a slower rate.
  • Observe nutritional needs: The layer feed should provide about 90% of your hens’ diet. Limit scratch and treats to no more than 10% of their diet. Feeding too many treats reduces the amount of nutrition your birds get from their feed. Limit treats to every few days, and then feed only about 2 tablespoons.
  • Be consistent: Your chickens need consistency, so provide them with fresh food and water at the same time each day, preferably morning and afternoon. They should have both feed and water available at all times.
  • Offer extras: Provide grit — small pieces of granite or other stones — to help them grind up their feed. Also offer oyster shell or limestone, which is slow-release calcium, as opposed to the calcium in their feed, which is absorbed quickly by the body. These supplements should be provided free choice, in separate dishes from the feed, and available at all times. The birds are self-regulating and will eat as much grit and oyster shell/limestone as they need.
  • Remember water: Fresh water is important to proper egg formation; eggs are mostly water. Make sure your birds have water at all times, even during the winter.
It’s important to observe your birds’ eating habits when you start a new feed.

How do I choose a layer ration?

How do you select a layer ration for your birds? First, think about your expectations for your birds and find a feed that will fit those needs. You have a number of options, from bare-minimum feeds that offer very basic nutrition to feeds that are finely crafted for top performance.

Pullets like this one need optimal nutrition to get their bodies in shape for laying.

For backyard flock owners, the goal is usually eggs. If this is your goal, choose a layer diet that will support your pullets as they make the transition to layers and prepare them to live healthy, productive lives. At the very least look for the minimum requirements of layer feed — 16% protein, 0.70% lysine, 0.30% methionine, 3.0% calcium, and 0.40% phosphorus.

Some premium feeds provide additional ingredients for optimal flock performance. For example, in addition to providing a solid nutritional foundation, Nutrena NatureWise includes the following:

  • Pre/probiotics support good bacteria, prevent colonization of bad bacteria, and aid with absorption of nutrients.
  • Yeast culture supports the immune system and gut microflora.
  • Essential oils are plant extracts that provide several benefits:
    • Provide nutrition to support healthy immunity
    • Maximize egg production
    • Support healthy digestion
    • Encourage healthy growth/bone formation
    • Enable superior eggshell strength
    • Enhance feed taste and freshness
  • Vitamin D3, an important vitamin related to calcium absorption, has the following roles:
    • Helps body absorb and use calcium
    • Improves hardness of eggshells
    • Supports stronger bones
    • Contributes to eggs that contain 37% more D3 than eggs from chickens fed a standard diet
  • Tagetes meal (Aztec marigold) helps the hens produce golden egg yolks.
  • Yucca schidigera extract reduces the amount of ammonia in your hens’ droppings, which minimizes coop odor.

 

Maximizing Meatbird Potential Through Nutrition

If you raise chickens for meat, you know the importance of diet in getting your birds to harvest weight in as little time as possible. Because meat birds (for example, Cornish cross or broilers) are harvested between 6 and 10 weeks of age, it’s important to rapidly maximize growth. A diet containing 22% protein may support this rapid development. Probiotics are another important key to high yield in a short time frame. Our new formulation adds essential oils that promote growth and flock health and yucca extract that helps reduces coop odors.

Why Probiotics for Meat Birds?

Proven research studies have found that probiotics help create a bigger bird in the same period of time. According to Dr. Gary Davis from North Carolina State University, quality probiotics “enhance nutrient utilization, uptake, and absorption…[and] an immune response in the bird’s gut. This is an excellent management tool to help birds fight off diseases.” Effective probiotics may include the following strains:

    • Lactobacillus acidophilus
    • Lactobacillus casei
    • Enteroccus faecium
    • Bifidobacterium thermophilum
Beneficial bacteria create a bigger bird during the same time period. These Cornish cross siblings of the same sex are 21 days old. They were fed a 22% protein diet with the following additives: left, no additives; middle, antibiotics; right, live, quality, stable probiotics. The probiotic difference is clear. (Image courtesy of Star-Labs.)

Diets containing high-quality, stable probiotics, such as NatureWise® Meatbird Feed, can boost the number of good gut bacteria, crowd out bad gut bacteria, increase nutrient absorption, and create a slightly acidic gut that favors good bacteria.

Why Essential Oils for Meat Birds?

Nutrena’s new, improved NatureWise® Meatbird Feed taps into the amazing powers of essential oils. These essential oils are distilled from leaves, flowers, stems, and roots. We’ve carefully formulated a combination of oregano, thyme, rosemary, star anise to promote digestion, growth, and a healthy immune system. These essential oils enhance the taste and freshness of the feed, resulting in better feed consumption. Chickens eating Nutrena NatureWise® feed showed more growth compared to chickens eating comparable amounts of other national brands. Finally, we’ve added yucca extract to our feeds. This phytogenic compound reduces the amount of ammonia in your birds’ droppings, meaning less odor in your coop.

oregano
Essential oils from thyme and other herbs contribute to better tasting feed and better growth.

See for Yourself!

Ask for new, improved NatureWise® Meatbird Feed with probiotics, essential oils, and yucca. It will support your birds’ health, healthy growth, muscle development, and livability—all without antibiotics. To maximize the potential of NatureWise® Meatbird Feed, follow these feeding instructions:

    • Provide as the sole ration from hatch to finish.
    • Free feed for the first three days, then use a 12-hours-on/12-hours-off feed rotation to prevent overeating.
    • Keep clean, fresh water available at all times.
    • Clean feeders and waterers regularly.

For more information on these probiotics and their benefits, see the post “Chicken Feeds: They’re not all the same.

Feeding Chickens in the Winter

If you are new to chickens or even an experienced chicken owner, understanding winter feeding can mean the difference between your flock surviving winter or losing some of your feathered friends. To learn more, listen in as Twain Lockhart, Nutrena Poultry Expert gives a rundown of the dos and don’ts of feeding chickens during winter.

The Chicken Digestive System and Immune System: An Important Partnership

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC 

How are your chickens’ diet and their overall health connected?

Overview of Immune System

As humans, we rely on our immune systems every day to protect us from viruses, bacteria, toxins, and fungi. When this network of organs, cells, and proteins defeats a threat to our body, it makes a record of how to defend against the invader. The next time the body is faced with this particular attacker, the immune system can defeat it swiftly and efficiently.  

The chicken’s immune system functions in a similar way. It is also complex. Its main defenses are lymphoid organs, which produce, store, and carry cells that fight infection. The primary lymphoid organs in a chicken are the thymus and the bursa of Fabricius:

    • Thymus: This series of lymphatic lobes runs almost the whole length of the neck. It is similar to the thymus in humans.
    • Bursa of Fabricius: This organ is unique to birds and is located on top of the rectum. It forms a kind of pocket (the word bursa means “purse”) that contains folds of lymphoid tissue.

These two organs produce immune cells: the thymus produces T-cells and the bursa of Fabricius produces B-cells. These immune cells migrate to other areas in the body, including the Harderian gland, spleen, and bone marrow. However, more than 60% of these immune cells migrate to and reside in the various places in the digestive tract, including the cecal tonsils and Peyer’s patches. From these locations, they defend the body against invaders.  

In addition to hosting immune cells, the digestive system also contains other important components that support the chicken’s immune system. Beneficial microflora (bacteria and yeast) live in throughout the digestive tract. They provide important services, such as protecting the walls of the intestine from colonization by harmful bacteria. Scientists also think that the friendly microflora help keep the bird’s body on high alert for disease-causing organisms.

So, the immune system of a chicken includes both immune cells and beneficial microflora that are located in the digestive tract.

Benefits of a Diet That Supports the Immune System

You can help keep your chickens healthy by providing a high-quality, commercially formulated feed containing elements that are necessary for gut health. These include probiotics, prebiotics, yeast culture, and essential oils. These ingredients populate the gut with good microflora and can boost the immune system. Studies have shown that feeds formulated to boost the immune and digestive systems can result in better health and quality of life and improved egg production and quality. In addition, healthy chickens are less likely to harbor harmful bacteria in their reproductive tract, meaning safer eggs for you.

Finally, a diet that supports the immune system can increase absorption of nutrients from food by increasing the surface area of the intestine, meaning your birds will use their feed more efficiently. It also aids in digestion of calcium, which is important for strong eggshells and healthy bones.

In short, a chicken with a diet that supports a healthy immune system is a chicken that is both happy and productive, living her best life.

Support Your Chickens’ Immune Systems

Nutrena® NatureWise® Poultry feeds with FlockShield® and essential oils are specially formulated to support both the digestive system and the immune system for birds at every stage of life. They contain probiotics, prebiotics, yeast cultures, and essential oils that contribute to gut and immune system health. Choosing Nutrena NatureWise with Flockshield will help your birds live their best lives by improving their health, digestion, and productivity.

Weathering your first Winter with Chickens.

If you are new to raising chickens, you’ll need to know the basics to keep your hens healthy and safe through the cold days of winter. From whether to heat your coop or not, to how to keep your hens from feeling cooped up, Nutrena Poultry Expert Twain Lockhart has advice on winter care that will help you keep your birds safe, happy, and healthy.

Chickens and Horses

Learn about the symbiotic relationship between hens and horses and how when raised together they both win. Twain Lockhart, Nutrena Poultry Expert, explains how hens can help prevent horses from getting colic and more.

Getting the Most Eggs from Your Hens in Winter

Bring more eggs in from the cold!

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

Woman collecting eggs

As cold winter weather approaches and the days grow shorter, your normally productive hens may be challenged to stay productive, and the cold weather may take its toll on the eggs they do lay. How can you keep your hens in optimal laying condition and assure that their eggs are the highest quality possible, while helping the birds live their best lives in the dark, cold months of winter?  

Let’s look at some important factors to consider with regard to winter egg production.

Egg Care

Check your nest boxes early in the morning and several times a day, depending on how cold it is. Collecting eggs often prevents them from freezing and expanding, which leads to cracked shells. You can also winterize your nest boxes to help prevent your eggs from freezing:

  • Ideally your nest boxes will be in the interior of the coop.
  • Insulate your nest boxes by cutting pieces of cardboard to fit sides, top, and bottom. Do not use insulation! Chickens will eat it.
  • Put deep bedding, such as pine shavings or chopped straw, in the nest boxes.
  • Make curtains for the nest box entrances from a heavy cloth, such as wool.

If you find a cracked egg, assess how bad the damage is. If only the shell is broken and the membranes are intact, wash the egg and eat it right away. If the membranes are broken, discard the egg. Do not feed broken eggs to the chickens; they will break and eat their own eggs once they realize how tasty they are!

Mental and Physical Health

The winter months can bring boredom, leading to pecking problems, also called flockmate persecution. Provide enrichment for your hens, such as scratch scattered in bedding/litter, a cabbage hung from the ceiling of the run, and suet baskets with lettuce and other vegetable treats (not suet!) tucked inside. 

Nutrena’s scratch grains can provide energy and keep your birds’ metabolism going at night when it’s cold! Feed only a handful of scratch in the evening. Be careful not to overfeed; extra fat on their body can lead to egg binding and other health issues.

Winterizing Your Coop

While chickens can tolerate low temperatures, sudden temperature changes can be challenging for them. A heat source such as lightbulb in a safety cage (Beware: it’s a potential fire hazard!) or heat panels can be used to raise the temperature about 10° F above outdoor temperature. Heat only part of the coop; this allows the birds to choose where they are most comfortable. Other ways to winterize the coop include

  • putting extra bedding in coop;
  • providing heated perches;
  • making sure the coop is well ventilated;
  • eliminating moisture and drafts, especially around roosts; and
  • covering the coop and part of the run with tarps or heavy plastic (not blankets).

You can find more tips and suggestions for winterizing your coop in this post.

Light

Chickens lay in response to the photoperiod, or amount of light they get per day. They need about 14 hours of light per day to lay their best. Check out the post “Feeding Chickens in Winter” for more information.

You can supplement light by installing a bulb that comes on in the early morning. For more information you can read this post. If you do choose to provide extra light, it’s best to limit it to 16 hours per day. However, you may choose to give their bodies a break for the winter months.

Water

Fresh water is critical for egg production. Your birds’ bodies and their eggs are mostly water, and they need to continually replenish this vital element. Slight dehydration may cause hens to go out of lay. Winter presents unique challenges because waterers freeze quickly. Heated waterers are especially helpful, but they require an electric outlet in the coop or a very long extension cord. Another alternative is to have a couple of waterers so you can place a fresh one outside for your birds while the other is inside thawing.

Feed

Once you’ve addressed the factors above, consider if your birds are getting the nutrition they need to be productive. Continue to feed your birds a balanced layer ration even though they might not be laying. They will need to be in top shape when days start to lengthen to go back into lay. Your birds will eat a bit more in the winter, so keep the food available at all times.

A 2020 study, conducted in 10.5 daylight hours at 12° F, showed the importance of a nutritionally well-balanced feed that includes ingredients like pre- and probiotics, yeast culture, essential oils, and Vitamin D3. In the study, hens fed NatureWise with FlockShield and essential oils not only kept laying, but they also produced thicker, stronger shells with no broken eggs. After three weeks of eating this diet, egg production increased by 325%.

As winter approaches, make sure to include NatureWise Poultry Feed as a balanced source of proper nutrition to keep your hens happy, healthy-and laying!

Coop Odors: The Stinky Truth and How Nutrition can Help

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

Sometimes your coop can get a little smelly, which can be a little embarrassing. What’s the scoop on coop odors, and how can you help your hens live their best lives by reducing odors in their home?

Causes of Coop Odors

Although chicken poop can be stinky, the most likely culprit for coop odors is the colorless gas ammonia. A combination of hydrogen and nitrogen, ammonia has a sharp, pungent smell, similar to vinegar.

Chickens that are exposed to this gas can develop permanent damage to lungs and eyes and will avoid the coop if levels are too high. Ammonia can cause damage at very low concentrations, which are below the level that the human nose can detect. So, if your coop smells like ammonia, clean it immediately!

Fixing a Stinky Coop

While cleaning is a quick solution, there are several longer-lasting measures you can take to eliminate odors and make your coop a more pleasant place for you and your birds.

Eliminate Moisture

A dry coop will lead to happy, healthy hens. Moisture in the coop not only can contribute to ammonia odors, but also lead to conditions that favor parasites and bacteria. To keep moisture low, use the following tips: 

Hens on a Henhouse Ladder

  • Every few days check for and replace damp bedding. 
  • If you use the deep litter method, clean out the upper layers several times a year, keeping the lower layer, which contains helpful microbes that break down bedding and waste.
  • Repair any leaks in the roof of your coop immediately.
  • Turn the litter if your chickens don’t do so on their own.
  • Add high-carbon materials that don’t pack easily (e.g., kiln-dried wood shavings), ground dolomitic limestone, or products containing zeolite.
  • Provide good ventilation. An air-tight coop might sound like a good idea, but air circulation will help dry out litter and prevent odors. 

Choose Feed Wisely

Your choice of feed can also reduce coop odors. Odor can be caused by waste protein from undigested feed. You can combat these smells by choosing feeds with the following plant extracts and essential oils:

  • Saponins: Additives called saponins, which include yucca, reduce ammonia production in a chicken’s body. As a result, they can increase the bird’s nutrient absorption and reduce the amount of proteins your chickens excrete.
  • Phytogens: Yucca is also a phytogen, one of a number of plant-based compounds that are increasingly being used in animal feeds. Other phytogens include essential oils, herbs, and spices. These compounds work with yucca to reduce waste protein by increasing digestibility, balancing gut microflora, and reducing gut inflammation, again contributing to better use of feed.
  • Proteins: You can also choose feeds that are more easily digestible, such as processed feeds available in pellets or crumbles, rather than whole grains blends. Feeds that are lower in crude protein can also help reduce odors; however, remember that your laying hens need 16% crude protein to stay healthy.

Choose NatureWise to Help Combat Coop Odors!

Nutrena NatureWise feeds can be part of your efforts to combat coop odors. NatureWise uses all-natural ingredients: essential oils, spices, bitter substances, and saponins that

  • support healthy enzyme production,
  • promote crude protein and nutrient absorption, and 
  • aid in the control of ammonia odor.

Remember that if you make a change to a new feed, switch slowly from your current feed to ease the transition, and help your birds feel more comfortable with the change.

Learn more about NatureWise Feeds

Molting

Looking to learn how to help your chickens through molt, an annual event, listen in as Nutrena Poultry Expert Twain Lockhart explains what molt is and how to help your hens through this lifecycle and back to laying eggs.

Amino Acids: Helping Your Flock Through Molt

Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

You may have seen the words amino acids on labels of human dietary supplements that claim to build healthy muscle, lower blood sugar, or improve skin condition. What are amino acids, and why are they also important for your chickens?

What are Amino Acids?

You may remember from science class that amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.chicken in molt They consist of about 20 different organic compounds that combine in chains to form complex proteins. These proteins, in turn, perform essential roles in living things. They form the cells of our bodies, transport materials to and from cells, help us move, protect us from disease, and determine the activity of our genes. Proteins and amino acids are essential to life itself.

There are two kinds of amino acids:

    • Nonessential amino acids are produced by the body and do not need to be part of the diet.
    • Essential amino acids, however, cannot be made by the body and have to come from food. These amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Of the essential amino acids, lysine and methionine play a vital role in feather growth. We’ll be looking at those in detail later.

Importance of Amino Acids During Molt

Chickens will generally begin to molt, or lose and regrow their feathers, in the fall. This is a natural process that begins after a chicken reaches the age of about 18 months. Old feathers drop out, new feathers grow in, and the whole process usually takes anywhere from 4 weeks to 4 months. Molting allows chickens to replenish worn-out feathers and ensure they have a warm, protective coat before the cold weather comes. During this time, egg laying will slow down or cease altogether.

Chicken feathers are about 85% protein, so chickens need extra protein in their diet during this time to support healthy feather regrowth. Because amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, it is important to ensure your birds receive the right amino acids in their feed.

Amino Acids in Feeds

Your birds need a high-quality diet with sufficient proteins (16% to 18%) and amino acidsbrown molting chicken during molt. During the molt, you should eliminate scratch grains from their diet; this provides primarily calories with limited nutritional value.

The bulk of the necessary amino acids in feeds come from the protein in the feed; however, a quality feed will contain two additional essential amino acids.

  • Lysine: The amino acid lysine is vital for overall growth, optimal digestion and use of feed, and balanced nutrition.
  • Methionine: Methionine is necessary for the development of the digestive tract, overall growth, feather development, and immune system performance.

NOTE: It is possible to have too much lysine/methionine in poultry diets, which leads the birds to eat less. Choose a commercial feed that is balanced to meet your flock’s needs.

Healthy Skin Helps Feather Regrowth

The health of a chicken’s skin also affects feather regrowth. Feather Fixer provides a combination of increased protein and fat levels along with chelated trace minerals to keep the skin healthy.

As soon as your birds show signs of molting, switch them to a commercial feed like Naturewise® Feather Fixer, formulated specifically for feather regrowth, to ensure they receive the amino acids and other nutrients they need to support healthy feather regrowth and get them back to laying.

As you consider your feed choices, think about amino acids and the needs of your birds. Naturewise® Layer and Feather Fixer provide all the nutrients your chickens require to live their best lives with optimal health, whether or not they are molting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why am I finding broken eggs?

It’s disappointing to find broken eggs in your coop. If you are looking to learn about some of the causes and what you can do to prevent them look no further. Twain Lockhart, Nutrena Poultry Expert will help you understand what might be causing this phenomenon and how you can prevent it.

New NatureWise Feeds with Vitamin D for Healthy, Strong-Shelled Eggs

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

At Cargill we’re working hard to help your hens live their best lives—and lay great eggs! Our new and improved NatureWise feeds now contain more Vitamin D3. What is this vitamin, and why is it important for your birds—and you? 

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium. It also aids in muscle movement, strengthens the immune system, and improves nerve function. The two main forms of Vitamin D are

  • Vitamin D2, which comes mainly from plant sources, and
  • Vitamin D3, which is produced by animals (including humans) in response to sunlight.

Although the liver can convert both of these into forms that the body can use, it processes Vitamin D3 more easily. That’s why we’ve chosen Vitamin D3 for our NatureWise feeds.

Human adults should get 800 IUs (20 micrograms) of Vitamin D per day, which is the same amount found in 1 Tbsp of cod liver oil or 3 ounces of farmed trout. Other natural sources of this important vitamin include salmon, red meat, liver, canned tuna, and egg yolks. Because egg yolks are a source of Vitamin D, let’s look at how this vitamin affects your chickens.   

How Your Hens Use Calcium and Vitamin D

Just like humans, hens need Vitamin D, too, and their bodies use it in similar ways. In a chicken’s body, Vitamin D does the following:  

  • Aids absorption and metabolism of calcium
  • Improves quality of bones and eggshell
  • Helps calcium move quickly through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream
  • Decreases early embryo death by up to 30%

The blood carries calcium to the shell gland, which secretes the calcium onto the outer membrane of an egg to create the shell. The blood also transports calcium to the rest of the body, where it contributes to bone health and helps power the muscles, including those that expel eggs.

Vitamin D3 Progress through the Chickens Body

 

 

Appropriate levels of Vitamin D can improve the hardness of eggshells, resulting in less breakage and a longer shelf life for your eggs. In addition, your older hens can benefit from Vitamin D. As hens age, they lay eggs with thinner shells. A little boost from Vitamin D can result in thicker, more healthy shells.

Chickens and Vitamin D Deficiency

So what happens if hens don’t get enough Vitamin D in their diet? A deficiency in this nutrient can reduce calcium absorption, which results in the following:

  • Brittle bones: Hens without enough calcium pull the mineral from their bones, reducing bone strength.
  • Thin-shelled eggs: A Vitamin D deficiency can result in less calcium in the eggshells.
  • Higher feed consumption: Lower levels of calcium in feed lead hens to eat more, resulting in higher feed costs overall.
  • Mineral-deficient embryos: Hens fed a low Vitamin D3 diet produce embryos with low levels of calcium and phosphate.

Because of the close link between Vitamin D and calcium, your birds’ diet should include healthy levels of both of these nutrients.

Find Vitamin D on a Feed Label

You can easily compare the levels of Vitamin D in different feeds. Commercial layer feeds have a Guaranteed Analysis, like the one pictured below, on the back of the bag. Locate the amount of Vitamin D and compare NatureWise to other brands. You’ll find that the new NatureWise has 2500 IUs of Vitamin D3 per pound.

 

Vit D eggs Guaranteed Analysis

Get More Vitamin D! Feed Your Hens New NatureWise Feeds

If you’re feeding your hens our new NatureWise line, eating their eggs can increase your own levels of Vitamin D. In a recent study conducted by Cargill, eggs from hens fed the improved NatureWise 16% Layer feed contained 37% more Vitamin D than hens fed the standard layer feed as a control.

Vit D levels

If you are a backyard poultry owner who values healthy eggs with optimal Vitamin D levels and strong shells, the new and improved NatureWise layer feeds are the best choice for your chickens. Learn more about our feeds with added vitamin D3 at the following links:

Essential Oils: Helping Your Birds Live Their Best Lives

While there is still skepticism around the use of essential oils and more research to bespring chicken bantam hen conducted, some poultry farmers have integrated essential oils and other natural ingredients into their birds’ diets to promote flock health. Let’s look at these amazing natural compounds and how they can help your birds live their best lives.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are plant products are distilled from leaves, flowers, stems, and roots and can be combined with a carrier oil or other liquid. They can also be used in dried form. In humans, essential oils are used as liniments (external) or infusions (internal/external).

Essential Oils and Chickens

Some backyard chicken owners regularly use herbs such as oregano, thyme, and rosemary because they believe they have antimicrobial, astringent, and antifungal properties, as well as the ability to repel insects. Essential oils from these plants are also making their way into chicken feeds.    

Essential oils are part of a class of plant extracts called phytogenics (FY-toh-JEN-ihks). Poultry farmers are starting to use phytogenics, including essential oils, in their feeds. They are also using phytogenics in feeds to support healthy growth. Proprietary research has shown that essential oils benefit the digestive, reproductive, and immune systems in laying hens. The following are a few examples of essential oils and their benefits. 

Oregano

oreganoStudies show that oregano oil extracted from two species, Origanum vulgare and Thymus capitatus, have antimicrobial and antiparasitic properties. However, these oregano species are not sold in traditional grocery stores, so finding a source of the right varieties is important. 

 

Rosemary

A member of the evergreen family, this common medicinal plant can protect poultry livers from toxic molds. Other benefits to chickens include high levels of vitamins A, C, and B, as well as magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, and manganese. Its strong smell also acts as an insect repellent.

Thyme

thymeThis member of the mint family is a medicinal herb in many cultures. In poultry it acts as an antioxidant that protects the intestine and boosts the immune system. Other effects in poultry include improvement in growth and digestive and antioxidant enzymes.[1]   

Star Anise

Star anise is the seed pod of an evergreen shrub native to China and Vietnam. It is commonly used as a flavoring and a scent for products such as candles. Oils extracted from star anise were shown to improve laying as well as growth. The use of star anise oils in poultry also increases antioxidants in the liver and egg yolk and stimulates the immune system.[2] It also aids in production of digestive enzymes and increases liver function. 

Nutrena Introduces Essential Oils in NatureWise

Nutrena is now offering new feeds that tap into the amazing powers of essential oils. Using a combination of oregano, thyme, rosemary, star anise, these new poultry diets support the digestibility of crude protein, amino acids, fat, calcium, and phosphorus. Essential oils and other phytogenics will maximize your birds’ laying performance and reduce ammonia emissions. New research shows that layers that were fed oregano essential oil produced 13 more eggs per hen over a period of 81 weeks. The overall quality of eggs improved by 1.6 percent. Cargill’s own research has shown that nutritious feed with essential oils results in healthy birds who lay eggs with a healthy weight and strong shells.

Giving Your Flock the Good Life

Our new product line with essential oils offers you and your chickens multiple benefits:

  • Better feed taste and resulting in better feed consumption
  • Enhanced freshness
  • Healthy digestion from increased enzyme production and nutrient absorption
  • Support for a healthy, strong immune system
  • Higher feed-to-meat conversion ratio in broilers
  • Support for healthy growth and bone formation
  • Promotion of healthy egg weight and size
  • Aids with maximum egg production
  • Stronger eggshells

Read more about our new product line that includes essential oils. 

[1] “Thyme: Thymus vulgaris,” accessed May 17, 2021, http://www.poultrydvm.com/supplement/thyme

[2] Caiyun Yu, et al., “Effects of Star Anise (Illicium verum Hook.f.) Essential Oil on Laying Performance and Antioxidant Status of Laying Hens.” Poultry Science 97, no. 11 (2018): 3957–3966. 

Keeping Poop Out of the Nest Box.

Poopy eggs are gross, take time to clean, and have a higher risk of exposing you to germs. If you’re having this problem and looking for solutions listen in as Nutrena’s Poultry Expert, Twain Lockhart explains the number one reason and how to put an end to it.

Top 3 Poultry Myths – HENS

Let’s bust some myths on laying hens. The internet is filled with lots of information on hens, some are true some are opinions. In this video Twain Lockhart, Nutrena’s Poultry Expert, debunks the top three myths on hens.

Ducks: Special Dietary Needs

Are you a chicken keeper who would like to add some ducks to your flock? Learn about the nutritional needs of ducks.

 

Chickens and ducks have similar dietary needs, with some important differences. Free-ranging ducks may be able to eat a multi-poultry diet, but they will do better on a feed formulated to meet their specific nutritional requirements.    

  • Niacin: Ducks need higher levels of this vitamin than chickens. Too little can result in leg deformities.
  • Protein: Ducks are omnivores, meaning they eat both animal and plant matter. A diet for ducks should be about 18% protein, some of which should come from animal sources.
  • Calcium: Compared to chickens, ducks need less calcium. Too much can be harmful.
  • Balanced diet: Laying ducks need certain vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. Also, an imbalanced diet can cause a condition called angel wing, which causes the flight feathers to twist upwards.
  • Prebiotics and probiotics: These elements are important to the health of both the digestive and immune systems.
  • Quality feed: Ducks are sensitive to mold toxins (mycotoxins) in their feed. To prevent mold growth after purchase, store your feed in a cool, dry location.  
  • Hard, small pellet: Ducks love to dabble, or dip their food in water while eating. Smaller pellets are easier for them to swallow than large pellets. Harder pellets hold together in water, which means less mess in their drinking water!

James Konecny of Royal Oaks Farm and owner of Lake Barrington Feed and Supply near Chicago breeds award-winning waterfowl by following these requirements in his feeding strategy.

For my waterfowl, I choose feeds that include animal protein from manufacturers that take measures to ensure low mycotoxin levels. I highly recommended hard mini-pellets over crumbles or mash; you’ll see less waste and improved digestion.– James Konecney

You can give ducks a multi-purpose poultry feed, but why not choose a feed formulated especially for them? Country Feeds Duck Feed is a complete, wholesome, balanced diet with the following important elements:

  • A guaranteed minimum amount of niacin
  • Prebiotics and probiotics to support digestion and immunity
  • Vitamins and minerals for healthy egg production
  • Small, hard pellets that are perfect for dabbling

Help your ducks live their best lives with their own specially formulated diet: Country Feeds Duck Feed!

The Power of Probiotics: Maximizing Meat-Bird Potential

If you raise chickens for meat, you know the importance of diet in getting your birds to harvest weight in as little time as possible. Because meat birds (for example, Cornish cross or broilers) are harvested between 6 and 10 weeks of age, it’s important to rapidly maximize growth. A diet containing 22% protein may support this rapid development. Probiotics are another important key to high yield in a short time frame.

History of Poultry Probiotics

Protein and probiotics didn’t always go hand in hand in meat-bird feed. In fact, probiotic technology is relatively new in the world of poultry farming. In the late 1940s, farmers fed antibiotics to meat chickens to further increase their size and prevent disease. These birds grew 2.5 times faster than chickens on a normal diet.

However, 40 years later, Dr. Leighton Linn, a livestock veterinarian from South Dakota, questioned this practice. He believed that correctly formulated probiotics would be superior to antibiotics.

Linn moved to Missouri in 1974 to found Star-Labs with partners Cliff Boyer and Gary Jones. Through careful research, they created a combination of probiotics to colonize a chicken’s entire digestive system and demonstrated through scientific trials that birds fed with the proper combination of probiotics experience significant growth.

Live Is Better

Star-Labs also found that the heat required for the pelleting process killed some of the probiotic micro-organisms. But they knew that meat birds gain the most benefit from feed with live, stable bacteria. With this discovery in mind, Star-Labs developed technology for poultry feeds that delivers live, effective probiotics able to withstand the heat of the pelleting process.

Effective probiotics may include the following strains:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Enteroccus faecium
  • Bifidobacterium thermophilum

Why Probiotics for Meat Birds?

Simply put, the superior, research-based results speak for themselves. According to Dr. Gary Davis from North Carolina State University, quality probiotics “enhance nutrient utilization, uptake, and absorption…[and] an immune response in the bird’s gut. This is an excellent management tool to help birds fight off diseases.”

Beneficial bacteria create a bigger bird during the same time period. These Cornish cross siblings of the same sex are 21 days old. They were fed a 22% protein diet with the following additives: left, no additives; middle, antibiotics; right, live, quality, stable probiotics. The probiotic difference is clear. Image courtesy of Star-Labs.

Diets containing high-quality, stable probiotics, such as NatureWise® Meatbird Feed, can boost the number of good gut bacteria, crowd out bad gut bacteria, increase nutrient absorption, and create a slightly acidic gut that favors good bacteria.

See for Yourself!

Ask for NatureWise® Meatbird Feed with probiotics. It will support your birds’ health, feed conversion, and livability—all without antibiotics. To maximize the potential of NatureWise® Meatbird Feed, follow the below feeding instructions:

  • Provide as the sole ration from hatch to finish.
  • Use a 12-hours-on/12-hours-off feed rotation to prevent overeating.
  • Keep clean, fresh water available at all times.
  • Clean feeders and waterers regularly.

For more information on these probiotics and their benefits, see the post “Chicken Feeds: They’re not all the same.” 

Chicken Feeds: They’re not all the same.

Did you know that a quality chicken feed is more than just grains, vitamins, and minerals? While these ingredients are necessary, they are only part of a diet that helps your birds live their best life. Quality, higher-technology feeds include beneficial microflora, which are gut-friendly organisms such as bacteria and yeast. These tiny living things populate the chicks’ digestive systems, aid in digestion, and strengthen the chicken’s immune system.

Let’s at look some of these added extras that contribute to a chicken’s digestive health. Then you’ll know what to look for when you’re looking for your next feed.   

Fungal Components

The next time you look at a feed label, check for the words yeast culture. Also called fermentation metabolites, this additive is composed of compounds produced by fermentation of dietary yeast, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae (sak-uh-roh-MY-seez sehr-uh-VEE-see-eye). When fermented inside a chicken’s gut, yeast culture has the following functions:

    • Supports the immune system and gut microflora
    • Contributes to the health and strength of intestinal tissues
    • Produces compounds that latch on to bad bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella and prevent them from attaching to the cells of the digestive tract

Another fungal product involves the fermentation of Trichoderma reesei (trih-kuh-DER-muh REE-see-eye). This feed component is an enzyme source, and the compounds it produces help break down carbohydrates to make nutrients more available to the chicken.

Probiotics

You’ve seen probiotics intended for humans, but did you know that probiotics are also helpful for your chickens? Probiotics are live microorganisms that result from fermentation and aid in digestion. Around 70 percent of the bacteria in a chicken’s digestive tract is Lactobacillus strains. They support the existence of beneficial bacteria, and some protect against bad bacteria. Many of these microorganisms are found in several places in the digestive tract. Look for these probiotics on feed labels:

    • Lactobacillus acidophilus (LAK-toh-buh-SI-luhs a-suh-DAH-fuh-luhs): Helps ferment carbohydrates, produces chemicals that support growth, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms
    • Lactobacillus casei (LAK-toh-buh-SI-luhs KAY-see-eye): Helps ferment carbohydrates, reduces colonization of bad bacteria, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms
    • Bifidobacterium thermophilum (bye-fih-DOH-bak-TEER-ee-um ther-muh-FIH-lum): Helps ferment carbohydrates, benefits immune system
    • Enterococcus faecium (en-tuh-row-KAW-kuhs FEE-see-um): Helps ferment carbohydrates, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms

When probiotics form part of the chicken’s microflora, they support the immune system and reduce disease. They also help the gut better absorb nutrients and can prevent or cure diarrhea.

Prebiotics

The prefix pre means “before,” and prebiotics pave the way for probiotics to do their job. They serve as food for good bacteria, supporting growth and strengthening the chicken’s ability to resist bad bacteria. When they are fermented by a chicken’s body, they create compounds that stop the growth of harmful bacteria and keep them from sticking to the intestinal walls.

Prebiotics cannot be broken down and absorbed by the digestive system. After the chicken eats prebiotic material, some remains in the crop. However, most prebiotics travel into the lower parts of the digestive tract, including the ceca. Here they aid in fermentation and balance the acidity of the ceca for optimal health.

Some of these prebiotics might appear on the feed label, or you can supplement your chickens’ diet with these common sources of prebiotics:

    • Flaxseed
    • Barley
    • Berries
    • Dandelion greens
    • Kelp
    • Garlic
    • Honey
    • Wheat bran
    • Yams
    • Lentils

While technically not a prebiotic, yeast culture has properties that can be included in the prebiotic category. It assists with nutrient absorption and digestion and produces compounds that can improve growth and enhance the immune system.

What to Look for on the Label

The next time you buy feed, read the label closely. There are two main sections to every feed label:

    • Guaranteed analysis lists the percentages of ingredients that the feed is certified to contain.
    • Ingredients includes everything that is found in the feed.

Look for probiotics, such as Lactobacillus strains, in the Guaranteed Analysis and Ingredients. The fungal products will appear in the Ingredients section only.

The next time you choose a commercially formulated feed for your flock, remember to look for yeast culture, prebiotics, and probiotics. These important ingredients will give your chickens some extra love and help them live their best lives.

Keeping Your Chickens Healthy This Winter

As George R. R. Martin loves to remind us, “Winter is coming,” and now it is almost upon us. While other folks might be worrying about preparing for the holidays or making the most of their limited daylight, chicken owners have their own unique set of concerns about the health and productivity of their birds.

One of these, as always, is predation, which remains a threat to backyard flocks year-round, even as many predators go into hibernation or migrate to avoid the colder weather. There are many simple steps coop owners can take to protect their birds from the weather and maintain their productivity in the face of dwindling daylight, several of which will also help keep winter predators at bay. In addition to those, however, there are always a few more things the cautious chicken owner can do to make sure their chickens make it through the winter unscathed and uneaten. 

Install an automatic door on your chicken coop. An automatic coop door might seem like an unnecessary expense, but they’re worth their weight in gold once winter comes and the darkness starts setting in earlier and earlier. Getting the hens in by nightfall is probably the easiest and most important thing an owner can do to keep them safe from predators, and an automatic coop door is especially helpful in the winter. As a bonus, many automatic doors are light-sensitive, so they can adjust the hens’ bedtime with the changing hours of sunrise and sunset, regardless of when their owner gets off from work or back from the store. The one concern for people in wintery areas looking to outfit their coops with an automatic door is to make sure the motor and other hardware can withstand the inevitable freezing and icing that comes with high winds and subzero temperatures.

Clear the area around the chicken coop. Predators, especially ground predators, are masters of hide and seek, and the closer they can get to the chicken coop without being seen, the more likely they are to view it as a safe and regular source of food. Winter, unfortunately, increases these opportunities several times over, between the fallen leaves, accumulating snowdrifts, and growing piles of firewood and unused equipment. Keeping these handy hiding spots far away from the coop and trimming back high grasses, low-to-the-ground bushes, and overhanging tree limbs will all help encourage prowling predators to seek food and shelter someplace else, far away from your hens.    

Maintain protection from above. Anyone with an outdoor run knows that hawks and other birds of prey are one of the biggest threats to homegrown chicken flocks, even in winter – while some species of raptor migrate, others do not. Fortunately, stringing some chicken wire or hardware mesh over the top of the run is usually more than enough to keep the swooping predators at bay. This remains true in the winter; however, harsher weather and heavier precipitation – snow, hail, freezing rain – means this high-strung chicken wire is one of the coop’s most vulnerable defenses. Owners should check its impregnability regularly, especially after a particularly heavy storm or other weather event.

Keep your coop clear of snow and ice. The annual battle against ice dams is a long, cold, exhausting one. However, chicken coops present another, smaller front in the war. After all, ice dams on the chicken coop present all the usual risks of warping and leaking, which is just as unpleasant for your chickens as it is for you, in addition to the question of that warping and weakening presenting the perfect holes to allow weasels, snakes, and other predators into the coop. These holes are especially troublesome in the winter, when the coop is more appealing to intruders, not only an all-you-can-eat buffet, but also a warm shelter from the harsh weather outside.

Clean up after your hens. Most predators will be dealing with a decrease in food sources in winter, which will make not only your hens, but their leftovers significantly more appealing to hungry predators, especially rats and other small creatures to whom some leftover chicken feed would be a significant boost in their diet. Making a pass at the end of the day, or at least every few days, to clean up any food scraps, feed piles, etc. lying around the coop and especially the run will go a long way in discouraging these foragers from making a habit of dinning at the Chicken Coop Market, which would inevitably escalate into stealing eggs and maybe even chicks.

There are many reasons winter presents a special challenge for chicken owners, from decreased egg production to the risk of frostbite. Unfortunately, predation is just one of these challenges, and one that doesn’t go away the rest of the year, either. The good news is that a little prevention goes a long way, and there’s no reason that, with a little foresight and a healthy vigilance, your entire flock of hens shouldn’t emerge in the spring, happy, healthy, and fully intact, ready to keep laying, playing, and living a happy hen life. 

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