Thursday, 28 August 2014

Chick health

Chick health… well poultry in general. Regardless of the species their needs, particularly in the early stages are very similar.

We quite often get questions about how to look after young birds. Whether it is from people buying birds from us, or just general ‘chicken rearing questions’ so I thought as I was setting up the brooder; I’d address a few.

So we had a few more Indian Game chicks hatch this week. And it doesn’t really matter if the birds are hatched in an incubator, by a broody or purchased as ‘day olds’ the general care requirements remain the same.
Warmth, shelter, food and water and obviously being clean and dry helps too.

Obviously if you are allowing ‘mum’ or a broody to raise the birds their needs are a little different. In all honesty we haven’t had the greatest amount of success in this, so we tend to catch the little ones and place them in the brooder anyway. Although in saying that, we haven’t let our girls sit very

often anyway.  We did have a hen that would often vanish and re-appear a few weeks later with a brood in tow. She was rather resourceful and a very attentive mother.

However as a general we incubate and raise the chicks in a brooder- shelter. Our brooder is a converted old wardrobe, with mesh where the door used to be. This allows us to use draws to divide the spaces and have multiple stages of birds at any one time. Handy when you rear a breed such as Indian Games that do not lay often and have a lower fertility rate- Therefore you incubate whatever you get, as you get it!
But for first time chick rearers a simple cardboard box will suffice- so long as the base is sealed and solid (plenty of tape!)
Now to keep the base of the box clean and dry you can use old newspapers, magazines etc. These can be changed out quite easily and may still be composted afterwards. But try not to use anything too glossy, as this can cause spayed legs; as the chicks are quite malleable at this stage if their legs slide apart, it may become a permanent problem. So for traction and to absorb fluids (spilled water, poop etc) we use a scatter of wood shavings too. Again these are easily cleaned out and are compost able once used.

For warmth we have installed bulbs. Under new regulations here all bulbs need to be ‘energy efficient’. Which is actually a little bit of a problem, since the biggest ‘waste’ for bulbs is heat; where in this instance this is the purpose. So be aware of what your light is capable of holding. As a lamp that would have held a 60 watt bulb will now only be able to use a maximum of 42 watts. Which will not generate a lot of heat.
Again lights can be as expensive, and/or permanent as you like. We have a larger capacity light that is permanently fixed to the side of the brooder. This space is for the youngest birds. As, as they get bigger and develop feathers hey will become more capable of regulating their ow body temperature. This light is also fixed the the side of the brooder that is able to be divided. This also allows us to manipulate the space the birds occupy, and it can grow with the birds. As a small number of day old birds do not need as much room as 2-3 week olds of more numbers.
And whilst in general we’re advocates for providing as much space as possible for the birds, as day olds they will not move too far from the light. And the more space they have the colder the space will be. It’s easier to heat up a smaller space; this maybe worth considering when sourcing your brooder. You do need enough room for them to move away from the light, if they are too hot. So if you are unsure check the temperature with a thermometer. We try and keep ours about 20°c but under 32°c (their incubator was only 37.5°c). 

When initially setting up your brooder you will need to provide your chicks with a source of water. For our first day olds we used a small plastic container lid. As the actual container would have been too tall for them to reach and we were concerned about them getting in it and being wet and/or drowning.
This is a fair concern, as we have lost chicks that we have left outside with their mums to larger water containers. Also you are keeping them warm as they are unable to regulate their own body temperatures. Being wet is one of the quickest ways to cool down.
large lipped design
this has much narrower rim
Now we have store bought waterers- plastic containers that maintain a water level from a water reserve. We have had issues with poults (baby turkeys) and those available with large lips; as they fall asleep in the dish and drown. So we prefer to use the narrow lipped designs, and only use the larger lipped version for older chicks- few weeks onwards.
When initially introducing your new chicks to their brooder it is important that you introduce each chick to the water- dip their beak in it before placing them down.
I have never heard of, or read that this is necessary with food.
Again food can be offered in containers or specially purchased feeders. Be aware that if they can get in the container/feeder they will. And their natural instinct is to scratch, so this will probably mean cleaning the box out more oftern and topping up their feed. They are fascinating to watch though, and will also instinctively chase and eat bugs etc.
For the feed itself, you can purchase ‘chick starter’ from most farm supply stores and many pet shops. Although in the past we have preferred to use a ‘meat bird’ starter. As it is mostly the same and still finely ground for young birds, but has a higher protein content. And is suitable for other species such as turkeys, ducks and geese. Both are also medicated to treat for conditions such as coccidiousis.  
Goslings playing with their water
At the moment we are feeding our chicks a combination of a fine grain mix (purchased directly fro the grower) with a molasses protein meal (again purchased directly). This we also use as a supplement for our cows and pigs. This does mean that we treat our chicks directly, for the medications.

New arrivals settling in
Now in general we don’t review products, or even advise on what to use But it was actually me cleaning out the chicks waterer for the new arrivals (as you don’t want to cross contaminate feeders etc between older chicks and day olds. Not that any of our birds have been ill, just you can never be too careful. And then medicating their clean water that lead me to write this post. As I’ve covered basic chick needs before. But when I get asked about raising birds or look at buying any I always ask if they have been treated for any of these things. Chicks can also be vaccinated against a few ailments/illnesses too. But this tends to be something that happens in large scale hatcheries and not your back yard breeder. After all most people will raise poultry with little to no health concerns… but it doesn’t hurt to know.

So we add a product called coccivet for coccidiousis and kilverm for worms. The kilverm is suitable for use for poultry and swine. As we keep both, this is the product we use, however there are plenty of other water soluble worming products available. Poultry of all ages require worming, so it can be helpful to do it on a routine date each month.
The coccidiousis however is only really a concern to young fowl. It is a condition that is passed through faeces and is generally associated with mass production. But I guess you can never be too careful. And since the feeds generally cover this, but we are not using medicated feed, we’re just covering all bases.

Another issue that I have seen a lot of discussion amongst chicken forums etc recently (must be he weather) is respiratory issues. This isn’t really an issue affecting chicks, but older poultry.
As we breed Indian Games we were advised to look into a product called ‘Breath-ezy’. Following us culling our first few birds, due to wheezing and mucky eyes/ beaks through fear it could be something more serious. Fortunately these new birds were still in ‘quarantine’- I would advise anyone introducing new birds from another location do this, before integrating the to their own flock. To minimise the risk of your existing birds being exposed.
We were told it can be a problem with the breed in colder weather and wasn’t likely to have been a major issue. But we had already dispatched of the birds to be sure. Fortunately since then we have not had to use it for that purpose.  But we have continued to purchase the product for general poultry hygiene. As it is a water-based cleaning product suitable for poultry housing as well as other animals; being water based means it can be used with our enviro- sewerage system.
So we use it for routine cleaning of our incubator, brooder boxes and waterers and feeders. Believe me once you have had chicks/birds for a while you will appreciate how mucky these can get!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Great weather for… geese?

Usually the saying would be 'great weather for ducks', given the (unseasonal, but welcome) rain we received over the weekend. But as you may or may not know we no longer have any resident ducks. Since the death of our remaining drake a few months ago our last duck was looking increasingly depressed. Possibly due to with being the only bird of her species in the flock (though she always had the ability to fly off if she wished). Or possibly the unwelcome attention from our unattached gander. So ‘Miss Duckles’ has been adopted out to join a flock of her own kind. And appears to be settling in well.

The other reason I say geese, is other than the wet conditions, this weekend (and end of the week) was a predominately goose based affair.  

Firstly our breeding pair; having been sat on and guarding their nest devotedly; and occasionally fiercely for the last few weeks (5 to be exact- goose egg incubation takes 35 days). So much so, that we had to set up a temporary pen within the chicken run (where she had set up her nest). To separate the defending gander from the other birds- as he would attack the hens, causing some nasty scuffles and a few minor injuries to the girls and their rooster- who would run to their aid.
Funnily enough, as soon as we did this the hens themselves started to lay again- we hadn't actually thought them being off the lay as unusual, given it is winter and the cooler weather often has that effect. But clearly the gander had something to do with this too. (We did open the pen when the others were let out of the run).

Anyway back to the geese; our breeding pair successfully hatched 4 cute and fluffy (and healthy) goslings from their clutch of 6 eggs.

Only this posed another problem/decision. When she originally began to nest we discussed whether we would allow her to sit or not. And in deciding she could, whether we or they would raise the young.
We often let the females keep their own reared young, as it seems so cruel to take them away (in the past we have left chicks, ducks, poults and goslings with their mums) but never with a happy ending. As the young become more active and adventurous they have either vanished (suspected food for something, even potentially our own dogs) or they have drown in the various water sources; especially pools (which are essential for the older birds- as they will survive with just access to water. But geese will actually only mate on water).
And given mother goose was looking especially thin and lack lustre we decided it was probably kinder all round to remove the goslings.

This was a task in itself- not surprisingly she was exceptionally protective of her young- as was Dad. But this in itself would have posed problems for the remaining flock had we not removed them, as we couldn't keep them penned up. But allowing them free reign with the youngsters would put the other animals at risk, given the adults strength and size.
It also didn't help, that their nest (and subsequent pen) was rather exposed, offering no shelter in the deteriorating weather conditions, as it was unseasonably wet. (So maybe not such great weather for geese, after all).
So the goslings are now, following a little distraction and capture- involving the other half fending the parents back, whilst I (being heavily pregnant) scooped the goslings into a bucket, to allow for a quick exit.  And yes I am grateful no-one had a camera; not because I harmed the youngsters, but because I imagine it was not entirely graceful on my part.  But the babies are now warm and dry in the brooder with their new friends, and doing well.

The other part of our weekend was also goose related, though the opposite end of the homestead scale. 
As a few weeks (if not a few months back) we acquired another pair of geese- although we only actually intended on adding another female for our single male; this one came with (what we believe to be) a sibling. We have had them separated at the front of the house until we decided what we would do with him. Initially we put him up for re-homing, with no success. So with his increased aggressive behaviour (and a little one on the way), not to mention the amount of poop on our patio and front door step- we decided they (or at least she) had to join the others in the 'rear flock' (away from the front doorstep). Although adding another male did not seem like a good idea. So he had to go. Therefore allowing for the female to have an unrelated mate.

So Saturday we culled and processed our first goose for the table.
*Note the following images include detailed images of processing a bird for consumption.

There were a few differences in processing a goose to our other poultry. Initially the plucking is notably more work; Even when scalded using detergent in the water. The initial ‘dunk’ required an aid (broom handle) as the bird would float. Then once we had removed the outer layer of feathers, we scalded the bird for a second time, allowing for the effective removal of the finer plumage underneath. The multi-layers feathers along with the stronger skin (as I would rather not say ‘tougher’) made plucking a more labour some task. However on the plus side the skin didn’t tear not matter how rough you were, so the bird’s final presentation was flawless.
Other than that the process was much the same.

Once you have finished plucking we begun by removing the legs. You may notice that we removed the head prior to plucking and the wings during. We decided to remove the wings, as we were to roast this bird whole and he lack of meat would have burned. So the dogs thoroughly enjoyed them.

Use the knuckles and separate using the blade
Next we removed the 'parsons nose' working down toward the anus- being careful not to cut this (at this stage).

Now pinch the skin just below the ribs/breast bone and lift, nick this with the blade to create an opening. This allows you to place the blade in (facing up) and work away from the guts. As you DO NOT want to nick the intestines etc. and risk contaminating you meat.

Vital that the blade faces away from the guts
Once you have your opening you remove the guts.

To do this use the breast bone to guide your hand in above the internal organs. Once behind them scoop down and toward the cavity. This should bring most of the internal organs out and allow you to remove the remaining anus (and connected intestines) safely away from the carcass. 
You may still have to clean out a few remaining attached items- such as lungs, wind pipe- remembering this may need to be pulled from the neck. But once you are satisfied that the cavity is clear, rinse thoroughly.  
So Sunday evening we rounded off our ‘goosey’ weekend by enjoying our first home killed free range goose.

As for the female, she has been settling in well with her new mate and Mother goose and Dad have been out and about too.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Show time! Chutney time

The first weekend of August is the annual local show. These 'shows' (as there are a few in this area- one for each town, though all around the same time of year) remind me of the agricultural or village fayre from my childhood. As they consist of competitions for fruit and veg, home economics, poultry, dogs, horse riding, food vans and rides... though the rides feature more in some than others. This particular one has an annual rodeo night too. 

When we moved here we went to our very first rodeo at the show that year. Guess it a cultural thing, but none the less we were pleasantly surprised.

So for this year following our recent success entering our flock in the local poultry competition, and my surprise preserve success at the larger region's show a few weeks back- we decided to enter our birds as well as a few jars. As I still had a number of jars of marmalade, mango jam, one last jar of mango chutney. So to accompany these I made a tomato & zucchini (courgette) chutney.

Usually I make a tomato & zucchini chutney when we have a glut of either tomatoes or zucchinis... or both; which often tend to be the case, as I find they tend to like very similar conditions. But given the delayed planting of our veggies this year these were made from purchased produce. The main reason I mention this is I usually use very large zucchini’s or marrows (as they would be referred to in UK) and green tomatoes. But as I bought them from a local produce/ fruit & veg store I did manage to source a couple of fairly large zucchinis and a bag of yellow- orange plum tomatoes.

I will admit the best version of this recipe I have ever made was using (green) cherry tomatoes from our garden; as I pulled a few plants due to over crowding/ overtaking. But peeling them was a nightmare! Peeling the larger varieties was a lot easier (and quicker), though am not so sure about the texture.

For this recipe you will want;

1kg tomatoes, skinned and diced (preferably under ripe or best green)
1 large zucchini/marrow, peeled and diced (2 small will also do)
1 large onion, diced
½ cup of mixed fruit
¾ cup brown/raw sugar
200ml of vinegar (I mix both malt and apple cider, but its personal choice)
tsp ground cumin seeds
tsp ground ginger
½ tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch salt

First job is to peel your tomatoes, so easiest way to do this is to bring a pan of water to a rolling boil. Drop in your tomatoes for a few minutes; til you see the skins begin to come away from the fruit. Then remove from the heat and carefully scoop them out (use a slotted spoon). Then carefully (on a chopping board) peel the skin away and remove any hard ends or eyes (by chopping end off). Then dice and place in a dry pan.

Once finished chop all the other ingredients to a similar size and add to the pan. (Personally I skin my zucchinis first).

Stir and place on medium heat and bring to boil, and then simmer for 2 hrs; stirring regularly.

Remove from heat and place in sterile jars.  

It tastes better after a couple of days, but then it should keep for a few months in cool, dark place.

Unfortunately I didn't make any placements with my preserve entries, though the birds did substantially better! Guess the poultry preening was worth the effort.

Bathing chickens and poultry pedicures

Following our success at the local Poultry show a few weeks back and how unphased the birds appeared with the whole process. We decided that we would enter our birds in the Annual Show this weekend.

To be honest we were rather surprised the other week to have won anything, especially as we had just caught the birds and took them straight there, as opposed to preparing them properly… And most poultry exhibitors take their birds and showing very seriously!

So for the show we thought we best ‘clean’ our birds. So I googled ‘bathing a chicken’… Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say, let alone write about!
In general chickens keep themselves clean; they dust bath. Which involves rolling around in dirt and dust (which seems counterproductive). But once they have finished they shake out the dirt and prune themselves. And generally (especially for your home flock) this will be all they need. 
Unless you have a chicken with poop sicking to feathers (this generally happens around their vent -back end) and I have used a warm, damp cloth to wipe our chickens bums in the past. Mostly as this can provide interest from other birds, to the area… otherwise known as ‘hen pecking’. And believe me this can become quite nasty!

I have also read about people washing chickens to treat mites. Similar to that of washing a dog or cat for flees I guess.
But neither of us have ever had cause to bath our chooks. So first time for everything. 

We began by filling a deep washing up bowl with warm water and mild tea tree dog shampoo. Basically this is what I use for our dogs. Everything I read suggested a mild shampoo, generally suitable for pets or babies. You lather their worst affected areas- legs, back end etc and them work along the rest of the body with the feather direction.

Then to rinse have a separate container with warm water and vinegar. (approx 200ml for 20 litres). Be careful not to use too much vinegar, as I’ve read that this can strip the oils from their feathers. So probably not advised for other poultry species, like ducks and other waterfowl.  But this helps remove the shampoo from their feathers, which I’m gathering would not be too pleasant either. Now some instructions I read used another container to condition and or rinse their birds again… yes with conditioner. We didn’t go that far. 
Oh and never let your birds heads go in the water- as they can drown. 

Either way once washed you then need to dry your birds. Again most posts I read were directed at soft feather birds (which would make sense) so needed drying with a hair dryer. Ours are hard feather varieties (in this instance anyway) so it was suggested that they be left to dry themselves. Though it also mentioned washing them on a warm day so they don’t catch a cold/chill. And as we were taking them there that evening, I had the hair dryer on standby just in case though as they didn't look too shabby, other than their feet. We decided wipe over their faces and not to  soak the birds, just in case they caught a chill- it is winter after all. 
So  I mostly concentrated on cleaning their feet. The scales had a surprising build up of dirt and under their nails definitely needed attention. This mostly involved soaking their legs in the warm soapy water and then scrubbing them with a nail brush, then rinsing.
I must admit I did not attempt to cut any of their nails- though everything I read suggested it was similar to cutting the dogs nails- using a dog clippers and not cutting back too far due to the vein that runs in them. I believe people do this to beaks too; to ensure they are even. Not too sure about this either.

Our efforts must have been worth it as we took home a few 1st places and breed champion for one of our dark hens!