Home » Poultry

Tag: Poultry

natural poultry feed

Keeping Chickens Naturally

I recently visited with Lisa Steele, author and 5th generation chicken keeper, to glean information from her on how she keeps her flock healthy and antibiotic-free. She provided me with her recipe and several of my poultry fans have asked, so I’m paying it forward!

Adding probiotics to your feed keep your chickens natural has so many benefits, including boosting their immune systems and aiding in respiratory problems. Additionally, it’s an inexpensive and easy way to keep tabs on what your flock is taking in. She recommends these steps for keeping your flock – chickens and ducks of all ages – healthy, the natural way.

Read more

Silkie Chickens

Poultry Profile: Silkie Chickens

One of the most adorable chickens at the Garden Home is called the Silkie because of its fine feathers that feel and look like strands of silk.

The Silkie isn’t a prolific egg producer, but it’s one of the best breeds to have as a pet. Docile and friendly, they will come to you when called and like to be held. The more you spend time with your Silkie chickens the more socialized they will be.

Children love Silkies because of their wacky appearance. They have a top hat like crest and turquoise earlobes that look like fancy earrings. And they have five toes! Most chickens only have four. They also have feathers on their legs, which makes them look like they are walking around in their pajamas.

Silkies come in both large and bantam (dwarf) sizes, but even the large version is small. They come in black, white, buff, gray, blue, and partridge (brown and black). You can get ones with or without a beard.

As an added bonus Silkie chickens don’t make a lot of noise, which is ideal if you live in an urban environment.

Where can you find these fuzzy fowl? One of the best ways to find them is at a poultry show. At the show you can find a breeder who offers baby chicks or adult birds.

Did you know?
Silkies came from China and were referenced by Marco Polo in the 13th century.

Buff Orpington Chickens

Raising Chickens – Breeds to Consider

Part of the fun of raising chickens is the different breeds available with their unique personalities and feathers. When pressed to recommend a “starter chicken” for those who are new to raising poultry and want a friendly, docile breed that are more like pets, I usually suggest buff orpingtons, they are a beautiful golden colored chicken with an easy-going disposition. A great way to get to know all of these breeds is to visit a poultry show or contact someone from the district where you live in the American Poultry Association at www.amerpoultryassn.com.

I’ve raised all these breeds and encourage you to read through this list to find the type of chicken that has the qualities that best match characteristics that you are looking for.

  • Australorp – excellent production of medium sized brown eggs, adaptable to confinement or free range, quiet, docile, easily handled. Good brooder, good mother, early maturing and very cold hardy. Developed in Australia from black orpingtons for egg laying .
  • Buckeye – medium producer of medium sized brown eggs, very cold hardy, can be broody, adaptable to confinement and a very good forager, calm and friendly.
  • Chantecler – good producer of large brown eggs and is a dual purpose bird that is extremely cold hardy. Bears confinement well but can be skittish around people.
  • Cochin – very popular as a show bird, medium producer of brown tinted eggs, excellent brooder, good mother and excellent foster mother, robust and cold hardy, adaptable to confinement or free range, peaceful, friendly and easily handled.
  • Houdan – both large and bantam varieties, show, dual purpose, medium producer of small to medium white eggs and can be broody but known more for fancy feathering, being crested, bearded and/or five-toed. Bears confinement well and is active, docile and easily handled. Wild and wacky looking.
  • Jersey Giant – dual purpose (formerly meat),good producers of medium to large brown eggs, good brooder, protective mother, robust and cold hardy. Large birds that eat a lot, adaptable to confinement or free range, calm, gentle and easily handled.
  • Leghorn – layer, extremely heavy producer of medium to large white eggs, a non-setter that is hardy, heat tolerant (especially the white variety) that is early maturing. Enjoys free range although will adapt to confinement and is flighty, spritely and noisy.
  • Modern Game – a game bird that is a low producer of white to lightly tinted small eggs, can be broody and a protective mother, hardy in heat, less tolerant of close confinement and needs to be active. Originally developed for exhibition, this bird has style.
  • Orpington – originally developed as an excellent meat bird, this dual purpose chicken is also a good producer of medium to large brown eggs, good brooder and excellent mother, hardy and early maturing, adaptable to free range, very adaptable to confinement, docile, affectionate, easily handled.
  • Plymouth Rock – dual purpose, good producer of large brown eggs, a good mother but broods infrequently, robust and cold hardy, well adaptable to confinement or free range, docile, friendly, easily handled. Once common on the homestead, still popular in the backyard. Developed in America and popularity spread very rapidly due to its qualities as an outstanding farm chicken.
  • Rhode Island Red – dual purpose, excellent, heavy producer of rich, large brown eggs, broods infrequently but can be a dutiful mother, robust, hardy in the heat and cold, adaptable to free range or confinement, active, calm and fairly docile but cocks can be aggressive. One of the best breeds for producing brown eggs.
  • Sebright – a true bantam, beautifully laced show bird, low producer of tiny white eggs, not broody, requires care, tolerates confinement, jaunty and spritely.
  • Silkie – a true bantam, probably the most popular bantam coming in black, white, blue, buff, partridge, or gray with black skin, face, combs and wattles. The name silkie comes from the hair-like appearance of their feathers. A low producer of lightly tinted small eggs, one of the most broody, hardy in the heat and cold but because of fancy feathering not suited for foul weather, adapts well to confinement, docile, friendly.
  • White-Faced Black Spanish – Very rare and becoming rarer, good producer of large white eggs, non-setter, heat tolerant, adaptable to confinement but prefers free range, haughty, noisy, flighty.
  • Silver Spangled Hamburgs – a very old race of domesticated poultry, the origin of this breed in Dutch. They are active, flighty birds that forage well and are capable of flying long distances. Excellent egg producers of relatively small, white eggs, they are trim and stylish with delicate features and considered to be an ornamental fowl. These non-setters are cold hardy and like a wide range being less tolerant of close confinement. Besides Silver Spangled, they are also found in golden spangled, golden and silver penciled, solid black and white. You can see Silver Spangled Hamburgs at colonial Williamsburg.
  • Wyandottes – Coming in a variety of colors and patterns, these are a good bird for a small family flock in rugged conditions. Cold hardy and good mothers, they have a good disposition and their color patterns make them a good choice for fanciers as well as farmers. A dual purpose bird with brown eggs, robust and very cold hardy. Well adaptable to confinement or foraging they are calm, industrious and usually docile birds.
  • Blue Andalusians – an ornamental bird with fairly good egg production of large, creamy white eggs, these small, active birds tend to be noisy and flighty and rarely go broody. They are both cold hardy and heat tolerant, economical eaters preferring free range. Andalusians are an example of the unstable blue color seen with poultry where it is a result of a cross between a black and a white. The blue color does not breed true. A black and a white (splash) are necessary for breeding but are not permitted to be shown. When the black and the whites are mated together, they will produce mostly blues.
  • Polish – coming in a variety of colors, having a crest, bearded or not, these are a strictly ornamental fowl. An unusual and beautiful breed, their crest can often restrict their vision and cause them to be frightened easily. White eggs.

Raising Chickens – Purchasing Chicks

Spring time is chick time at the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home. This time of year the hatchery and brooders are fully populated with baby birds getting ready to join the rest of the flocks on the farm.

So you may be asking yourself where one gets chicks if they don’t already have chickens. You can order them through a mail order hatchery, purchase chicks at a farm supply store or pick them up from a local hatchery.

Here are a few pointers to help you through the process.

Know the Breed

Before you start shopping do your research and get familiar with the different breeds. Much like dogs, every chicken breed has unique qualities. Leghorns are good egg layers, Wyandottes are calm and Orpingtons adapt nicely to confinement. You want to match your chicken to their environment and your needs.

Where to Get Your Chicks

Baby ChickensBaby chicks are available through mail order, farm supply stores and local hatcheries. To ensure success get your chicks from a reputable hatchery. Check with your extension service for local sources. You can expect to pay around 2 to 4 dollars for day old chicks depending on the quantity, sex and breed.

Mail Ordering : You can order as early as January and schedule delivery for later in spring. Early ordering is a good idea if you have a specific breed in mind because the selection gets slim fast. I’ve ordered from Stromberg’s with good results. You can order all female, all male or a “straight run,” which is a mix. As you can imagine chicks are very hard to sex so expect a few males/females in the batch even if you specify one sex. Most often the minimum order is 25. This is the number of chicks needed to keep them warm enough to survive transit. There are a few places that will ship fewer.

Vaccines

Make sure your chicks are vaccinated for Marek’s disease. This is an optional vaccine, but worth having. Marek’s is a virus that is extremely common and easy to catch. The symptoms include paralysis, drooping wings, thinning and blindness. Besides being painful and often terminal, a flock may be contagious without every showing signs of the disease. To be effective it is important that chicks are vaccinated as soon after hatching as possible. It will add a small cost to the price of each bird, but it’s well worth it.

Be Ready Before Your Chicks Arrive

It’s important to have everything in place before you bring home your new babies. They’ll need to stay in a heated brooder until they are well feathered with bedding, water & feed.

 

Heritage Poultry Expert Frank Reese on Aylesbury Ducks

Aylesbury ducks have an intriguing history, and they’ve been around for a long time. And at one time there were many of them. But now they’re considered a very rare breed. Earlier this year, Frank Reese, with the good shepherd poultry ranch, came to visit me at the farm to discuss the history and importance of preserving the heritage of these beautiful birds.

Allen Smith: Frank, I can’t believe how windy it is today. I’m so glad you’re here.

Frank Reese: Well, thank you.

Allen Smith: you know, the Aylesbury duck has been around for a long time, hasn’t it?

Frank Reese: Yes, it’s a very old breed. It’s so old, we don’t even know for sure their complete history. But it’s an old English breed of duck.

Allen Smith: You know, we have been fortunate here to be able to collect three genetic lines of that duck. I was stunned when I began to collect these birds, how few there are left in the country.

Frank Reese: Yeah, you probably have one of the bigger flocks that’s even in existence in North America. There’s just hardly anybody left breeding them, especially in any numbers. So the work you’re doing here is extremely important. And they’re not the only bird in trouble. There are many of our varieties of standard-bred poultry — the Jersey Giant, the Barred Rock, the Silver-laced Wyandotte, the old, original meat birds. And there are many, many other varieties of poultry that are in great danger.

Allen Smith: Now, you’ve raised poultry your entire life and know a lot about all the different species. But with the ducks, any advice as we move out of winter into spring?

Frank Reese: Well, you know, this time of year for ducks, they do quite well in cold weather and just getting ready for spring and that they have all of the water and feed and nutrition they need to lay good, healthy eggs. The majority of the time we get in trouble with a little duckling is because we let him get cold, and we let him get wet.

Little ducks, believe it or not, drown very easily. And so you do have to just watch them. You are their mother. They’re babies. They need to be watched. And you need to help keep them warm and dry and have good bedding and clean water.

Allen Smith: Well, my hope with this series of strains, these three that we have, that we’ll be able to hatch a lot of ducklings and really bring up the population of Aylesbury and be able to offer them to other farmers.

Frank Reese: Yeah, and hopefully you’ll also become the center of teaching, a place in which people can come and learn what an Aylesbury is about and why that duck needs to be preserved and be part of our future.

Allen Smith: Frank, so good to have you here. Thank you.

Pet Chickens? You bet.

About this time last year I sent my friend Mary Beth home with 2 dozen hatching eggs and one of the roosters from the group made into Cooking Light's Fun issue and not as an entrée! And if you are considering a backyard flock, but haven't taken the plunge yet pick up a copy of this Cooking Light and read Mary Beth's article. You can get a sneak peek here.

The top dog at Moss Mountain Farm is not a dog at all but a rooster named Amos. Amos is a Buff Orpington you’ll find strutting around the front lawn with his entourage. I like to think of them as the welcoming committee.

Amos is one of my favorite characters at the farm. I would even go so far as to say he’s a pet, which will not come as a surprise to those who have raised chickens. Their plucky personalities can be very endearing. In fact, some folks treat their poultry with as much love and devotion as the family dog.

Thanks to products like chicken diapers birds can live indoors and special leashes allow Foghorn Leghorn to join his person on a stroll around the neighborhood. I even hear tell of chickens wearing sweaters and scarves to protect them from the cold.

Now, I adore the poultry at the farm, but I think we are all better off not being roommates. And Amos probably prefers life in the buff to wearing anything that would cover his beautiful feathers.

What about you? How do you pamper your chickens?

A Treat Toy for Chickens

The girls love this treat ball from Manna Pro.

How do you pamper your pet chickens? The Chicken Chat community weighs in.

I asked members of the Chicken Chat community to share pictures of their beloved roos and hens. Click on an image to enlarge and read about the chickens.

[gallery_bank type=”images” format=”thumbnail” title=”true” desc=”true” responsive=”true” animation_effect=”” album_title=”false” album_id=”1″]

A Mobile Home for Chickens

My fascination with unusual chickens started at a young age. When I was nine I entered a trio of Silkie bantams in a show at the Warren County Fair. Silkies are pretty fancy looking birds. They are covered in downy feathers with a head crest and feathers around their ankles and toes, as if they are wearing a fur coat, cap and boots.

Since then I’ve raised a variety of birds some that I’ve given names including Slim, a Modern Game bantam; Jackie and Elroy, a pair of Barred Plymouth Rock bantams; Mottled Cochin bantams and French Porcelains.

Because space is limited in my urban home garden I’ve found the smaller bantam breeds to be the ideal size. However, the roominess of the Garden Home Retreat has made it possible to select some large birds like the colossal black Jersey Giant. First developed in the 1870s, they are still the largest American breed. Roosters can weigh up to 13 pounds and hens as much as 10 pounds. The chicks that I have are only a few weeks old and they are already as big as crows.

The second type of chicken I’ve selected is a French variety called Houdan. Like the Silkies, it’s a flashy breed with a feathery head crest and muff around the neck. They also have 5 toes.

Old TrailorSome friends of mine have been kind enough to keep the chicks for me until I’m ready to move them to the Garden Home Retreat. The construction of their new house is underway and its going to be something special. After years of checking out all the amazing houses people provide for their chickens, I knew exactly what I wanted to build – a portable chicken tractor. It is designed to protect the chickens from predators while giving them free range to graze on fresh grass. I took an old trailer frame and had it straightened and strengthened by a local welder. Then I stopped by to talk to a talented local woodworker I know and sketched out a design on a napkin. He took the plan and constructed a house on top of the trailer. Once finished, it was stained in the same colors as the other outbuildings. A portable electric fence is strung around the area to protect the birds. As the birds graze in an area and need fresh pasture, the entire house can be moved and the fence repositioned.


Back View

Side View

Cut Away Interior View

If you want to try your hand at raising chickens, spring is a great time to purchase chicks. For the best success, I recommend that you find a local breeder. You can do this by checking out the publication The Poultry Press or your local cooperative extension. For poultry raising supplies, nothing beats Stromberg’s. I have been purchasing material from them since I entered my first competition with 3 white Silkie bantams.

I also recommend that you purchase a copy of A Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow. It is an excellent book that will help you learn how to raise chickens successfully, and before you know it you will be sharing chicken stories of your own!

Poultry Profile: Jersey Giant

Jersey Giant is the largest breed of chicken that I raise at the farm. The hens can reach up to 10 pounds and the roosters a whopping 13 pounds. In comparison with the Jersey Giant, the typical weight of a Leghorn is 4 ½ pounds for hens and 6 pounds for roosters. Their hefty size demands more space than other breeds, but they are well worth including in your home flock if you have the room.

Jersey Giants were developed in New Jersey between 1870 and 1890. The objective was to produce a chicken that could replace the turkey as America’s favorite roasting bird. It’s a dual-purpose breed, which means they are raised for both the meat and eggs. I raise black Jersey Giants, but white and blue are also colors recognized by the American Poultry Association.

As far as temperament goes, you’ll find them to be very mellow and easy to handle. Jersey Giants are adaptable to both confined spaces and free range. They produce a good amount of large, brown or cream colored eggs.

If you are planning to raise these chickens for meat, keep in mind that it takes longer for them to mature than other breeds. Plan on it take several months for a Jersey Giant to reach a big enough size for the pot or roaster.

Black Jersey Giant Chickens
Black Jersey Giant Chickens

Poultry Profile: Slate Turkey

My first go at raising turkeys was at the age of twelve. I purchased a trio of Bronze turkeys from a local poultry show. I never got over the turkey bug and as soon as I was able I started building a turkey house at Moss Mountain Farm.

Due to their size and talkative disposition turkeys are not for everyone, but if you live in a rural area with room for them to roam I highly recommend adding a few to your backyard flock. Most turkeys are curious and sociable and a pleasure to have around the farm. They are also great foragers and will help manage insect pests in the garden.

TYPES OF TURKEYS

I think most of us can visualize the bronze, fan-tailed tom turkeys that we’ve seen in pictures and on television, but the turkey breed actually comes in several colors. The American Poultry Association (APA) recognizes eight color varieties: Black, Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, Slate, Bourbon Red, Beltsville Small White, and Royal Palm. These are all heritage varieties designated so by their ability to reproduce without artificial insemination, ability to thrive and be productive in an outdoor habitat and have a slow growth rate. Believe it or not, these characteristics are no longer common for the turkeys we serve at Thanksgiving or slice up for a sandwich.

Black Turkey

Black Turkey

 

THE IMPACT OF COMMERCIAL TURKEYS

Since the 1960s the broad-breasted white turkey is the variety most common on the American table. Its rapid maturity, large breast and low cost make it popular in the industry. Unfortunately the rise in popularity has been at the expense of the other colors. Within 30 some odd years heritage varieties had dropped to critically low numbers. According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) the total number of breeding turkeys in the eight recognized colors was down to 1,335 by 1997. That’s when the ALBC kicked into high gear and started promoting the merits of heritage turkeys. As of 2006 the population of all varieties of heritage turkeys (including those not recognized by the APA) was 10,404. This was just about the time that my turkey house was ready for new occupants.

To help me decided what variety of turkey to raise I sought the counsel of heritage poultry advocates Marjorie Bender and Frank Reese. Their advice led me to the Slate turkey also referred to as Blue Slate, or Blue.

SLATE TURKEYS

The APA accepted the Slate turkey in 1874, so the variety has had a long career. Unfortunately, that career has waned and the population has dwindled. An added concern is the size of the current birds, which is down 18 to 20 percent from what their weight was in 1874.

Slate Turkey

The stone wall at the farm serves as a catwalk for the turkeys to strut their stuff.

 

The coloring of Slate turkeys is variable and contingent on the genetics of the bird. They can be ash-blue with or without black flecks. Lavender Slates are pale blue-gray. These are also referred to as Self Blue.

As for size, young toms usually weigh about 23 pounds and hens weigh 14 pounds.

Slate Tom Turkeys

Frick and Frack are a pair of Tom turkeys at the farm.

 

I find Slate turkeys to be very gentle and they will gladly take up the role as farm pet if you are so inclined.

SLATE TURKEYS AT MOSS MOUNTAIN FARM

We keep about 30 birds at Moss Mountain Farm and we do process some for eating. Like other heritage turkey varieties the flavor is exceptional. I usually roast a few for Thanksgiving. The key is to brine the birds for 24 hours and cook them slow. Every spring about 100 poults (baby turkeys) are hatched that we sell and use to replenish the permanent flock.

To help improve the genetics of our Slate turkeys eggs are collected from only the most robust birds. Spanish Black turkeys also play a role in our breeding program. By introducing them back into the lineage every few years we hope to strengthen the genetics.

Black Turkey

Slate turkeys are very personable.

 

Conservation was the motivating factor for me, but their unique coloring, good nature and flavorful meat are other reasons to add the Slate turkey to your flock. You can even use the eggs for cooking. They are quite flavorful and can be used just like a chicken egg.

Sebastopol Goslings

I want to tell you about what’s just hatched in the incubator. A beautiful little Sebastopol gosling. Sebastopol is a breed of geese with the curly feathers as adults. Their feathers have a little twist to them so the bird looks like a feather pillow. When they are little like the most recent hatchlings you can’t really tell that they will have that kind of hairdo, or, I should say, feather-do, but eventually, as they mature the feathers will curl.

Now when the goslings first hatch they don’t need any feed or water for up to 48 hours. There’s enough yolk still left in their systems that will supply energy and food for them. When it is time to give them water to drink, I like to give them a vitamin supplement too.

Next we start them on a feed that is 20% protein. I also add a little brewer’s yeast to the feed because it gives them a little more niacin and they need that.

Once the goslings start eating you would not believe how much they will expand in just four weeks. They start going through that very awkward stage where they begin to lose their down and put on feathers.  By six months they look like they’re full-grown.

I enjoy having geese at the Garden Home Retreat, particularly the rare Sebastopols, because it provides an opportunity for their genetics to be perpetuated, and also they’re very beautiful to have out in the pasture and on the pond.