Keeping Hens and Horses

A recent post on our Nutrena Chicken and Poultry Feed Facebook page asked an outstanding question – is it okay to let my chickens out in the pasture to range with my horse? Not only is it okay, it is actually a good idea! Keeping chickens along with horses is a time honored tradition that certainly can be manageable, and even beneficial – here’s why:

  • Chickens are opportunists. When a pellet or kernel falls, they’ll be there to pick it up. This saves your horse from mouthing around on the ground to find bits of feed (a practice that can lead to ingestion of dirt and sand) and it reduces the amount of feed that is wasted.
  • Chickens are good horse trainers. A horse that has had exposure to poultry won’t “have his feathers ruffled” by sudden movements, loud noises, or the occasional appearance of an egg…
  • Chickens help prepare your horse for the trail. If you plan to take trail rides where wild turkeys, partridge, chuckar, etc. populate it can be beneficial to have your horse used to the patterns and noises of fowl by keeping a few chickens around. A little exposure to flapping, squawking and scurrying can go a long way to desensitizing your horse to those types of events out on the trail.
  • Chickens are nature’s fly traps. You and your horse hate bugs – but chickens love them. Chickens eat flies, worms, grubs, bees; if they can catch it they’ll nibble on it, which means it won’t be nibbling on you or your horse.
  • Chickens are low maintenance. Provide them with a cozy place to sleep, fresh clean water, free choice oyster shell for strong eggshells, grit for digestion and some layer feed and they will be happy and healthy.
  • Chickens help with the chores! One of a chicken’s favorite things to do is scratch the ground for hidden treasures. Give them a pile of horse droppings and they think they’re in heaven! They’ll have the manure broken down, spread around and out of sight before you can even think of grabbing a pitchfork and wheelbarrow!
  • Chickens are pets with benefits. Besides being a colorful and entertaining addition to your stable yard, chickens provide one thing your horse can’t – breakfast! Now if they could only cook it and serve it to you in bed…

A few words of caution about keeping chickens with your horses – make sure that your chickens are fed seperately from your horse and that your horse can’t get into their feed. This will eliminate the risk of your horse consuming layer feed that is not designed for his digestive system. Also, provide roosts for your chickens that are away from your horse’s feeder if they are not put into a coop at night to eliminate waste of feed and hay due to chicken droppings. Make sure both your horse and chickens have fresh, clean water that is easily accessible to them at all times.

 

Winter Lighting in the Chicken Coop

Do you wonder why your chickens stop laying eggs in winter?  And is there anything you can do about it?  Good news, friends!  Watch this video from Nutrena Poultry Specialist Twain Lockhart for everything you need to know about lighting your chicken coop to keep the girls laying eggs!

Leave comments below, or questions if you’ve got some!

Eggs – To Wash or Not To Wash?

Everything is better when it’s clean, right? Your hands, your house, your kid’s face…but what about your eggs?

When you buy eggs from the store, you’ll notice they are pristine and clean. If you collect your own eggs, you know they don’t naturally come that way!

It is interesting to note that as a chicken lays an egg, it gets a nearly imperceptible coating that is called “bloom”. Bloom acts as a natural barrier and prevents germs and bacteria from getting to the egg through the shell. By leaving your eggs unwashed, the natural barrier remains intact. Commercial egg producers are regulated and required to wash all eggs before shipment, which is why the eggs you buy in the supermarket are so tidy.

If you are producing your own eggs for your household, you have more control over how your eggs are handled. Wiping eggs off with a dry cloth will knock off the feathers and dirt. And if you get the occasional “messy” egg? Go ahead and wash it – then store it in the refrigerator and try to use it before you use your other, unwashed eggs.

Eggs are most often stored in the refrigerator to slow decomposition and refrigerating your eggs is a common practice in the U.S. In many other countries, however, eggs are stored at room temperature and never refrigerated. Whatever your preference for storage, you may want to consider foregoing absolute cleanliness – at least when it comes to your eggs!

Why Feed Grit to Chickens?

Ever wondered why you should feed grit to chickens and other types of poultry?  Check out this short clip from Nutrena Poultry Specialist Twain Lockhart for answers!

Leave a comment if you have one, or feel free to ask questions below!

How Much Feed Does a Chicken Eat?

A common question among poultry owners, especially those new to raising birds, is “How much do my birds eat, so I know how much feed to buy?”.  

Below are some general guidelines to go by, keeping in mind that a variety of factors, from weather to other available food sources, can influence the exact amount of prepared feed your birds will consume.

Feeding amounts for newly hatched birds:

Type of Bird Feeding period Total amount of feed
Layer chicks First 10 weeks 9-10 lbs per bird
Broiler chicks (based on Cornish Game Birds) First 6 weeks 8-9 lbs per bird
Turkeys First 12 weeks 72 lbs per bird
Geese First 8 weeks 53 lbs per bird
Ducks First 8 weeks 22 lbs per bird
Gamebirds First 8 weeks 9 lbs per bird

Feeding amounts for laying birds:

Type of Bird Total amount of feed
Chickens 1.5 lbs per bird per week
Turkeys 4 – 5 lbs per bird per week
Geese 3 lbs per bird per week
Gamebirds 1 – 1.5 lbs per bird per week

Understanding Poultry Digestion

Instead of asking “Why did the chicken cross the road?” poultry hobbyists may better ask, “How does the chicken chew its feed without any teeth?” Even without teeth, chickens have one of the most efficient digestive systems in the animal kingdom. Let’s take a look at how the poultry digestive system works.

Food is taken in with the beak, which is the perfect tool for pecking feed in crumble or pellet form, small grains, grass or insects. Chickens are omnivores – meaning that, in addition to a commercial feed, they can eat meat (grubs, worms, the occasional mouse) and vegetation (grass, weeds and other plants). A small bit of saliva and digestive enzymes are added as the food moves from the mouth into the esophagus.

From the esophagus food moves to the crop, an expandable storage compartment located at the base of the chicken’s neck, where it can remain for up to 12 hours. The food trickles from the crop into the bird’s stomach (proventriculus or gizzard) where digestive enzymes are added to the mix and physical grinding of the food occurs.

The gizzard is why chickens do not need teeth. It is a muscular part of the stomach and uses grit (small, hard particles of pebbles or sand) to grind grains and fiber into smaller, more digestible, particles.

From the gizzard, food passes into the small intestine, where nutrients are absorbed. The residue then passes through the ceca, a blind sack along the lower intestinal tract, where bacteria help break down undigested food. From the ceca, food moves to the large intestine, which absorbs water and dries out indigestible foods.

This remaining residue passes through the cloaca where the chicken’s urine (the white in chicken droppings) mixes with the waste. Both exit the chicken at the vent, the external opening of the cloaca.

And don’t think of chicken manure as “waste” to be disposed of…it makes a great fertilizer for your flower beds or vegetable garden. Because it is high in nitrogen, it is recommended to let it age for a bit in a compost pile before adding it to your gardens.

Tour the Poultry Digestive System

It is important to understand how a chicken or other fowl digests its food. Here’s a quick tour of how food moves through their digestive tract.

  • Mouth: It all starts here.
  • Esophagus (Gullet):Transports food from the mouth to the stomach.
  • Crop: A pouch in the esophagus used to store food temporarily before moving it on to the stomach.
  • Stomach (Proventriculus or “Gizzard”): Principally the organ where food is broken into smaller units. It has two parts: the proventriculus for storage and the gizzard. The gizzard is a muscular part of the stomach that uses grit to grind grains and fiber into smaller particles.
  • Small Intestine: Aids in digestion and nutrient absorption. Composed of the duodenum, jejunum and ileum.
  • Liver: The largest glandular organ in the body. Aids in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
  • Ceca: Bacterial action in the ceca helps break down undigested food passing through the intestine. The ceca turns into the large intestine, which connects with the  cloaca.
  • Large Intestine: Functions primarily to absorb water, dry out indigestible foods and eliminate waste products.
  • Cloaca: Where the digestive, urinary and reproductive systems meet.
  • Urinary System: Consists of two kidneys and two ureters. The kidneys are located in the pelvic bones. They filter waste from the blood and pass it through the ureter to the outside via the cloaca/vent.
  • Vent: The external opening of the cloaca that passes waste to the outside.