Summer Feed Storage – What You Need to Know

Summer Feed StorageWe all know summer brings heat, as well as important considerations when storing poultry and any other pet or livestock feed.  We think about summer feed storage and keeping feed the right way and serving it to your flock in the most efficient way, saving you time and money.

I have likely made all the mistakes that can be made in my poultry keeping days, so hopefully my experience can help some of you be the best livestock keepers you can be.

When I buy a bag of feed and bring it home, I pour it slowly into a metal storage container in my feed room. I use this same storage method all year long, to ensure consistency and quality in what I am feeding.

My feed room maintains a nice, cool temperature as its shaded by a large magnolia tree that protects my barn from the sun and elements. I only buy one bag at a time, maybe two if it’s on sale, because my bin perfectly fits two 50 lb. bags. Once my feed is in the bin, I use a basic 4 quart feed scoop to fill my feeders. 

I keep two 5 lb. feeders for 15 birds. I keep them full most of the time since my schedule doesn’t allow me to monitor them at all times. If you choose to fill up your feeders to free feed, I would recommend putting them up in the evenings (in a metal storage container) and putting them back out in the morning. 

This will keep pests away. I also always check the age of the feed I buy to make sure it’s not out of date and free of pests. I let my birds empty their feeders before I refill them, no room for pickiness here!

Keep in mind my birds also get treats and free range during the day so they get plenty to eat.

There are three main points to address when considering feed storage and containers.

1. Environment

Feed kept in the hot sun and dry conditions will get overly dry and lose palatability. Feed stored in hot, humid conditions can mold and be prone to insects. Keep feed in a container that stays out of the elements and is in a dry, cool location.

If the feed that’s already in the feeder gets wet or starts to age, dump it out and start fresh (maybe with a little less this time). Allow the birds to completely empty the feeder before you refill it so it’s always free of build-up and mold. 

Mold can make your birds sick in large amounts, so once in a while its best to check and wash out your feeders even if they haven’t been exposed to extreme elements.

2. Pests

Any time feed is old, has gotten hot, moist or been left exposed, it can attract lots of pests. These can include various types of bugs that will get into and feed on the product.

It also includes rodents and other small animals that would enjoy a free snack. It’s my personal recommendation that feed is stored in a rodent safe container (preferably a metal bin) that has a tight fitting lid. The metal will keep small rodents like mice and rats from chewing through and getting into your feed bin.

A tight fitting lid will also keep larger pests like racoons and opossum from pulling the lid open and helping themselves to an easy meal. If you keep feed in a feeder all the time it’s always best practice to put your feed containers up in a bin at night and pull them back out in the morning.

If moving the feeder is not an option, then you may look into getting a feeder that opens when the chickens step on a pedal and closes back when they step away. Typically mice are going to be too light to open up these types of feeders.

3. Age of feed/rotation

When buying from a feed store or even when you keep multiple bags of feed on hand, it’s always best to check and make sure you are buying/using the oldest feed first. 

There should be dates (typically a manufacture date) somewhere on the feed tag or the bag that will let you know when it was made. 

Using the oldest feed first ensures that you always have the freshest feed on hand.

With these considerations, you are sure to keep you and your feathered friends happy and healthy!

Free Ranging Chickens: The Pros and Cons

There are many reasons that I chose to start free ranging my chickens.

I have run into some challenges along the way, but overall my experience with free range chickens is a good one.

Here are a few tips in getting started!

I ALWAYS start my chicks in a safe (indoor – house, barn, garage etc.) brooder where they are offered a balanced 18% chick starter, clean water, fresh shavings, artificial heat and a safe haven from all the critters that would love to eat them. They remain in the brooder for about 6 weeks or until they are fully feathered.

Weather permitting, I then move them outside to a coop where they can adjust to the elements but are still safe as they grow to full size.

At this point they are able to see my other birds but cannot interact with them. This practice also allows me to keep hens from eating chick feed and chicks from eating layer feed!

At 16 weeks I will switch them over to a layer diet and monitor them until I feel they are sizable enough to defend themselves against my other hens and smart enough to get away from predators.

Typically these young birds will continue to go back to the coop to roost and I will close them up every night.

During this time my older hens will “shun” the new flock and in my experience for a period of time I will have two totally separate flocks.

Over time, the younger birds will integrate more with my existing flock and after a while will begin to roost in the barn with the others.  At that time I will close off the coop and clean it up for the next season of growing chicks.

Once they are integrated with the flock all of my birds free range 24-7 and roost in my barn where I have stalls for my goats when I need to lock them up and where my livestock guardian dogs can roam underneath them to keep predators away at night.

My livestock dogs are KEY to the reduced loss from night dwelling predators.  If this is not a reasonable option for you I may consider still locking them in a coop at night.

Now that you know a little bit about my set up, lets discuss what I LOVE and what I DO NOT LOVE about free ranging my birds.

Pros of Free Ranging Chickens

  1. They eat less feed
    For the most part my birds will come down from roosting in the early morning and eat a little feed I leave out for them. They will spend the remainder of the day roaming the property eating all sorts of things from grass to bugs and small critters.They come back in the evening hours and take a few more bites and head up to their posts for the night. However, since I want my birds to produce at optimal capacity I can rest easy I supplement their diet by using Nutrena’s Egg Producer layer feed which is formulated perfectly to balance the diet of free ranging birds.
  2. Less need for Grit
    When chickens can roam around and pick up sand, small rocks and pebbles they will not need grit that you would purchase at a retail store and offer in a coop setting.Grit and or “natural” rocks and pebbles aid the chicken in breaking down ingredients that they consume during the day. It is how they manage to start breaking down food without teeth!
  3. Insect control
    Chickens and other fowl are wonderful at keeping bugs under control. They will eat most any type of bug.Anytime I am in the yard working, my ladies always flock to me knowing I will turn over a rock or a stump and they will have a buffet of all types of crawly critters. I even see them roaming the pastures scratching through horse and goat manure – YUCK, I know – but this is actually good for me and the other animals because they are eating fly larvae!I spend my life battling flies with livestock and chickens are great at taking care of them at the source while ducks seem to be excellent at catching flies right out of the air!
  4. Control of other pests
    In case it is still a mystery, chickens are the closest living relative to the T-rex. If you have ever spent much time watching your birds you may have noticed that they truly love “the hunt.”They are always carefully watching for their next meal while they scratch around and forage.I have witnessed my birds chase down and corner mice and small snakes. They are almost as good as my barn cats!!! Not to say that they keep the mouse population 100% at bay since typically mice are out at night and chickens are mostly blind in the dark, but for the mouse who makes a mistake and comes out in the day light, they are fair game and a welcome challenge for your birds.Given the opportunity, chickens will keep all kinds of unwanted pests away from your farm.
  5. More active and over all healthier birds
    Since I started free ranging I have never had an overweight chicken. Even my bigger breeds like my Brahmas tend to stay quite fit because they get plenty of exercise roaming around the farm all day.They stay healthier because they are not living in close quarters and are at less risk of catching illnesses they may be exposed to in a coop setting.If I have a bird get sick its typically one bird and most of the time I can catch it and quarantine that individual to treat her as opposed to having to treat the whole flock.Considering that most medications on the market today have a withdraw period where eggs must be tossed. Treating a lone individual is much more convenient than having to treat my entire flock and buy eggs from the store.
  6. Less space required in coop
    When chickens are living in a coop 24-7 you must have a minimum of 4 square feet per bird of living space in the coop and even more so in a run.Some town and city ordinances will dictate how much space your birds need in a coop. However, if they are roaming free all day and their only coop activities are laying eggs, eating feed and sleeping, you can typically get away with a little less space in the coop itself.Most birds prefer 1-2 feet of roosting space but in my experience they tend to clump together and unless you have really big chickens, 2 feet is quite a bit of space on a roosting bar.
  7. Shade
    If your birds are able to free range they will find shaded areas, bushes and cool dirt to lounge in during hot summer days.If they are in a coop full time make sure that the run area and coop have some shade to get out of the sun.

Cons of Free Ranging Chickens

  1. Predators 
    Chickens are fair game for A LOT of different kinds of predators. At night they are easy targets for raccoons, opossum, weasels, fox, coyotes, bears and MANY more night dwelling critters depending on your geography.In my experience raccoons have been the biggest culprit at night. I went three years without ever having a problem but once they found my flock I was devastated over a period of two weeks despite my efforts to catch the little buggers.My Great Pyrenees were the only thing that stopped them from coming but unfortunately this was after I lost over half my flock VERY quickly. They are also fair game for many daytime predators including hawks, eagles, sometimes fox (during pupping season) and most of all domestic pets.If your neighbors have dogs that roam free, be extremely careful with loose chickens. Even the friendliest dog can be triggered into prey drive by a running chicken.
  2. Egg hunting
    When I first started free ranging I felt like I was on an Easter Egg hunt every day! This got quite frustrating for a while. It seemed like once I learned their “go to” laying spots they would change it up on me.I once found over two dozen eggs nestled in some weeds under a tree in my pasture. Eventually I figured out how to outsmart them.I keep multiple highly desirable laying spots in my barn and always keep a wooden or plastic egg in the nest.Since chickens have a natural instinct to want to clutch up eggs before they start sitting on a nest this method works for me MOST of the time.I am not saying that once in a while I do not have a rogue chicken start laying somewhere funky (like in my goat’s water trough) but usually this is a rare occurrence. I can remedy it most times by “sacrificing” a few eggs and leaving them in the nest to trigger those clutching instincts again.

    Just make sure you mark those eggs with a sharpie so you do not accidentally eat them later as I assure you they will not be fresh.

  3. Eating unwanted plants (gardens, flowers, herbs, etc.)
    If you or your neighbor have a garden and your chickens find it they will definitely capitalize on a free meal. They will also eat some flower pedals and herbs if you are not careful.Giving your birds produce from the house entices them to seek out this kind of treat and will create an even higher drive to get into a garden.If you want to free range and have a garden – chicken proof it – as soon as possible
  4. Making a mess and scratching in landscaped areas
    Chickens LOVE to scratch up holes and dust in them.If you have a perfectly landscaped yard then your chickens are going to upset you if they are given freedom. Keep this in mind when making your decision.
  5. Manure
    1. Stepping in it – Your chickens will poop where ever they please. Keep this in mind when making your choices. The more space you have for them to roam the less messy your yard will be. However, even with my 5 acre farm I still step in chicken poo fairly regularly.
    2. Ability to collect, compost and use manure and bedding as fertilizer. If your birds are in the coop with bedding you can easily clean that out, compost it and use it like liquid gold on your garden and yard. If your birds are free ranging you will miss out on that opportunity because their manure will already be spread all over your yard and maybe not where you want it!!
  6. Noisy when needing to be in coop
    Before I got my livestock guard dogs, I would typically lock up my chickens when I went away for a weekend or if I had something going on where I felt like they may not be safe.Once they are used to free ranging, they HATE being locked up and they will definitely put up a fuss and make sure you know about their displeasure. If noise is an issue with your neighbors – they will not appreciate a newly locked up chicken.
  7. Eating harmful stuff
    When free ranging, chickens can pick up and eat things that may not be desirable. Keep in mind that if they are free to roam take up any kind of pest poison (mouse, slug, ant… etc.). Even though it may not harm your bird, you do not want those poisons in your eggs!Same goes for chemicals you put on your yard. If you are throwing down weed killer or fertilizer on your yard keep that in mind as your birds forage around and potentially eat that grass it is not going to lead to the healthiest eggs for your family.

I have attempted to raise chickens in coops, totally free ranged and free ranged during the day while locking them up in a coop at night.

I have had success with overall production in every scenario but have to manage them differently in each situation.

It is my belief that there are pros and cons to each choice and you have to make decisions based on what is best for you, best for your birds and which management style is most realistic for your farm or hobby yard.

How to supplement calcium to your flock

The shell of each egg that your hens are laying is made up of nearly 95% calcium carbonate by dry weight. To produce hard eggs, your chicken will be consuming up 20 times the amount of calcium in one year than the amount of calcium that is contained in her actual bones. As their keeper, it is your responsibility to make sure each chicken is consuming a steady supply of calcium in her diet.

DON’T Feed Egg Shells
There are some chicken owners who swear by reusing eggshells and feeding them back to their flock. Some people may crush these before feeding. Feeding your chickens their eggshells may seem like a convenient way to recycle them, but there are several health risks that will be brought upon them.

1. Risk of salmonella for hens. Salmonella can be found on the inside and outside of eggs. The kicker? Salmonella can be on eggs that seem to appear completely normal. Feeding your hens eggshells infected with this bacterium can cause this sometimes fatal illness. Some people prevent this by baking their eggshells before feeding, however, that is not always effective and is a time-consuming process
2. Risk of salmonella for humans. This is where the “domino effect” comes into play. If a chicken is eating eggshells with salmonella and becomes infected, this affects the eggs they are producing, and any human consumption of those eggs.
3. Can teach hens to start eating their own eggs. When chickens start to recognize their food as eggshells, this runs the risk of them eating and destroying the eggs they lay.

DO Feed Them Oyster Shells or Limestone
Though this may seem like a higher investment up front, feeding your laying chickens oyster shells or limestone instead of their own eggshells with pay off in the end. By cutting out serious health risks to your chickens and to those eating the eggs they produce, feeding oyster shells or limestone is a cost effective and safe alternative. In addition, a little bit of these products go a long way – a 50 lb. bag of oyster shell or limestone will last the average flock an extended period of time – up to several months for a flock of 6 – 8 birds. Feeding these products is easy – simply put the oyster shell or limestone in a separate container and allow birds access free choice. Your girls will take what they need.

Just keep in mind that when it comes to calcium supplementation for your flock,  ground limestone or oyster shells are safer options than feeding eggshells back to your girls.

Bumblefoot – causes, treatment and prevention

The health and success of your chickens lies in your hands. Knowing what diseases Spurs_Bumblefootthey’re at risk for is critical for you to allow them to lead healthy lives. Bumblefoot, or plantar pododermatitis, is caused by introduction of staphylococcus bacteria and is found on the toes, hocks and pads of a chicken’s foot.  It is characterized by a pus-filled abscess that is covered by a black scab and is paired with lameness, swelling, and the infected bird’s reluctance to walk. To keep this becoming a fatal problem in your flock, learn the causes, treatments and prevention methods.

How did they get Bumblefoot?
Knowing how your birds can get Bumblefoot will help you to catch it early and even begin to prevent it. The disease enters through breaks in the skin caused by:

  • Splinters
  • Sharp wire ends
  • Jumping repeatedly from a perch (heavier breeds are at a higher risk doing this)
  • Skin irritation caused by poor litter management

How do I treat it?
The best treatment is catching it early, so you have a higher chance of beating it. Once you find it, use the following treatment methods:

  • Administer proper antibiotics for a specified amount of days, as prescribed and instructed by your veterinarian.
  • Soak the lesion in warm water filled with Epsom salts to soften the exterior. This will allow you to drain the lesion with hydrogen peroxide, filling it with antibiotic ointment once the pus and debris is cleared.
  • Keep the bird separate from the time you find the disease and until treatment is complete, and provide them with adequate bedding.

Can I prevent it from happening in the future?

  • Keep infected bird separate and disinfect the area where your healthy flock is housed.
  • Provide clean and proper bedding on a regular basis.
  • Have your perches less than 18 inches from the floor.
  • Eliminate all rough and sharp edges.

While you are treating birds infected with Bumblefoot, remember to be careful and to make sure you are protecting yourself from the infection with gloves and proper disposal of materials so it does not pass on to you and others.