Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A better chicken coop and chicken runs

A better chicken coop and chicken runs

The basic idea is to give the chickens fresh green feed without actually letting them run loose. Living here in the desert there is a long list of predators, including some that people might not expect. This is not to say that you cannot free range your chickens, it just means if you do you should expect to lose a few chickens from time to time. coyotes, dogs, cats, skunks, raccoon, weasels, hawks and eagles are just a few of the many predators I deal with on a regular basis. As a result poultry runs need to have netting on top to keep hawks and eagles from thinking your chickens are a buffet.

Monday, April 8, 2013

poultry eggs

    Poultry eggs come in a variety of sizes and colors. Quayle and Partridge eggs are generally the smallest, usually about thumbnail in size. Bantam eggs are generally half the size of a chicken. Turkey and goose eggs are generally 2 1/2 to 3 times the size of a chicken egg . Chicken eggs come in small, medium, large, extra-large and every once in a while ouch, a double yolker. The following is an example of some of those eggs.
     Just as in humans chickens from time to time will have twins (double yolk egg). My father told me stories of living on the homestead and how some of these eggs would hatch out. On occasion Siamese twins were the result but that rarely did they survive more than a few hours. Most eggs simply did not hatch at all and generally were collected for eating. Oddities and defective eggs will occur, including eggs that have no yoke. Usually these eggs are about the size of a golf ball or smaller. There is no need to be concerned unless the oddities occur on a regular basis. In which case consulting with your local cooperative extension office http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/ may be a good idea.
        Something else that should be kept in mind is that eggs are good indicator of how healthy your poultry flock is. When I collect or eat eggs I make note of the condition and coloration. If eggs are being broken on the nest it is possible that the chickens are not getting enough calcium. A supplement to their diet can be oyster shell, which I buy in the large 50 pound bags. Oyster shell will keep for years and is cheaper in the larger bags (1lb bags can cost as much as a 50lb bag). You may also feed them the egg shells from the eggs that you eat. But it is extremely important that you crush the egg shells so they do not recognize the egg shells as eggs. This is to prevent the hens from cannibalizing their own eggs. If you start to get eggs that are difficult to break when cooking, it is possible that your hens are getting too much calcium. If you find blood spots in your eggs it is possible your hens are eating meat or something else. Also make sure that you're laying hens are not eating the baby chicken feed, as this usually has antibiotics in it and would make the eggs not safe to eat. Light-colored yokes are an indicator that the chicken is not getting enough greens or insect proteins. This is also why store-bought eggs are a very light yellow in color and free range chicken eggs are usually orange and have a better taste.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Turkey jerky dog treats

broad breasted White turkeys
    On many occasions we find ourselves with older breeding stock and wondering what to do with them. Poultry that is more than 6 to 9 months is usually pretty tough to eat.  One of the simplest solutions is simply turn them into dog treats such as turkey or chicken jerky. 
Ronco non-forced air dehydrator
   Start with lean meat and trim all fat, skin and bone off of meat. Slice the meat into thin strips, usually 1/4 inch or less. Thinner meat strips take less drying time. (Do not add seasoning, salts or sugars as this is for dog treats and is not needed.) It is also one of the big advantages over store-bought jerky that usually has preservatives added to it.  From here there are two different ways to dehydrate meat. One is in the oven at 200° for several hours. Place the thin strips of meat you wish to dehydrate over wire racks sitting in baking pans. The wire racks allow any remaining fat to drain off into the pan. Periodically check the meat for dryness every 30 min. or so. The strips should be leathery to brittle in consistency.  Any pieces that are spongy or not dry will require additional drying time. 
         The second method uses a dehydrator. The Nesco-american Harvest Snackma (Google Affiliate Ad)  is a good one to start with and cost less than $70. It uses forced air which reduces drying time and cuts down on the electric bill.
 The advantage to a dehydrator is that it's more cost-effective and in hot weather doesn't heat the whole house.
    Meat that is greasy or oily may require freezing or refrigeration to prevent spoilage. If you intend to freeze your jerky be sure and add a silica gel pack to the bag to prevent moisture. Usually I will create my jerky in small batches. I freeze the meat sliced until I need to make jerky. During the summer months I sometimes give the dogs slices of frozen meat sickles instead of jerky. Always smell the jerky for spoilage before you give it to your pet. Unpleasant odors are an indication of spoilage and jerky should be thrown away.

In the end you will save more money and give your dogs healthier treats if you make your own jerky. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Nesting boxes

The best and least expensive nesting boxes are made from 5 gallon plastic buckets.
Round or square it doesn't matter, square buckets just stack easier. Check with your local restaurants to see if they have any they're throwing out. Many restaurants will give them to you free or at low cost.
Simply cut a hole in the lid or bottom and you have your instant sanitary nesting box. Make sure you leave a fairly large lip on the bottom edge. A 3 " lip should keep eggs from rolling out. Add straw or other nesting material to keep your eggs clean and the box is ready to go. Note: good nesting material such as straw eliminates most of the need for a bubblier to clean the eggs and instead of having to clean all your eggs you only have to clean a few. It can be screwed to a wall or placed in a wood rack. Be sure and mount your nesting box lower than the roost so the chickens do not try to roost in or on the nesting box. This will also keep them from defecating in or on the nest box. The plastic nesting box will be cleaner than a wooden box and will help prevent mites and other parasites. 
   Note; if you intend for your chickens to hatch their own eggs, be sure and place the nest box in a spot close to the ground. The mother hen will try to lead her chicks back to the nest they hatched out of each night. If the nest box is high off the ground the mother hen will not be able to get her chicks back into the nest and they may not survive. Not to mention the baby chicks trying to get out of the box high off the ground may fall to their death. The buckets also makes it easy to relocate the hen and her chicks if need be.
cat litter box re-purposed as a chicken nesting box
     Nesting boxes can be made from just about anything. The nesting box to the right was made from a cat litter box. Stones were placed on the lid to keep the box from blowing away in the wind and in front of the opening for easy access. A nesting egg (fake egg) is placed in the nest to encourage chickens to use the nest. Plastic Easter eggs also work really well for this. Be sure to weight the eggs down and glue them shut. Keeping in mind that a nesting box close to the ground is vulnerable to predators, I placed this one inside the chicken run for added protection.

Commercial nesting boxes are available such as the one above. And can be easily mounted to the inside wall of your chicken coop. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

chicken or poultry crook

chicken crook

    No, it's not a person who steals chickens. It's something that I have noticed most people do not seem to know about. And although I enjoy watching people chase chickens all over the place, I think it's time to clue you in on an easier way of catching chickens or poultry. 

    Chicken crooks have been around for as long as sheep crooks or shepherds crooks have been around. In the days before fencing was invented, chickens and turkeys were herded much like any other livestock. My father would tell me stories of getting up before the sun came up in order to herd a couple hundred turkeys into the alfalfa fields during the day. Then before the sun would set he would herd the turkeys back to the roost. This was an 8 foot tall 10 foot wide ladder that the turkeys would sleep on at night, to keep away from the coyotes. My father would complain that sometimes he had to climb the roost and pretend to be a Turkey, in order to convince the turkeys that this is where they needed to go to sleep. From time to time he would have to use the crook to catch a few stray turkeys and physically put them on the roost. Trying to catch poultry on a large farm would have been impossible without the use of a crook.

    The all metal crook on the left has been in the family for almost 100 years. The steel crook has a finger width gap and is constructed from a light rebar that is about pencil thickness (1/4”). The one on the right is one that I made from a mop handle and some heavy steel wire (1/8 to 3/16”) wire. This crook has a Pencil sized gap but because it is more flexible it can be used on a variety of chicken sizes.

   Unlike sheep crooks which are used around the neck, these crooks are used to snare one of the legs of the chicken. You will also find that you can use this device in tight quarters where a net would not be an option.