Country Traditions

October 1, 2010

Keeping Chickens Mite Free

Filed under: animals, chickens — Tags: , , , , — dmacc502 @ 7:03 pm
A photo of chickens drinking water

Image via Wikipedia

Keep you hen houses and your chickens free from mites.


September 29, 2010

Raising Ducks: Choosing Breeds, Feed, Housing and More

Filed under: animals, farming, ponds, wisdom — Tags: , , — dmacc502 @ 6:56 pm
Ducks amongst other poultry

Image via Wikipedia

Choosing a Breed
All domestic breeds (except the Muscovy) originate from the wild Mallard, but they have been developed for specific purposes. Most ducks still have a strong utility element — they provide meat and eggs — although there are exceptions. Like chickens, ducks are divided into bantam, heavy and light breeds, with the heavy breeds being better suited to the table and the light breeds providing the high egg layers.

Bantam Breeds

The best known of the bantam breeds is the Call duck, so named for its loud and persistent quack. It makes a great pet, but is not a good layer. The Crested Miniature, which is an exhibition type, lays a useful 100 eggs a year, but the Silver Appleyard Miniature not only lays well but is also meaty for its size. The Australian Spotted also lays well and matures fast. Bantam breeds are good flyers and need to have their wings clipped.

Light Breeds

This group includes the really good layers, such as the Indian Runner, an upright duck that cannot fly but is a superb forager on pasture and should not be confined to a small area. The Campbell was bred for egg laying — it can produce 300 a year — and also makes a good table bird. The Welsh Harlequin is another dual-purpose, hardy bird with a placid nature.

Heavy Breeds

These are the table birds, and at the top of the list is the Aylesbury. The true Aylesbury is rare, and most such-named ducks are really white, heavy, Pekin-type hybrids. The Pekin is a semi-upright, quick-maturing, high meat-yielding bird, but a low layer in Britain, although U.S. keepers can expect up to 200 eggs a season.

The Rouen and Rouen Clair are kept for their looks, but still produce a good carcass and 100 or so eggs a season. The Silver Appleyard was developed to be a good foraging, dual-purpose bird, but it is also colorful in appearance.
Heavy breeds are not good flyers, with the exception of the Muscovy. It originates from a tree duck, and with its crest, its hissing, and the red, fleshy protuberances on its face and bill (carbuncles), it looks quite different from other ducks. It makes a good table bird (though it is dark meat) and is a moderate layer, but it can be aggressive and also eats small mammals.

Buying Ducks
You can buy ducks direct from breeders, from quality shows and sales, and from hatcheries.

Buy birds at the age they start laying eggs (21 to 24 weeks old), and they can live for eight to 10 years. Day-old ducklings require heat and starter crumbs as well as drinking water. Restrict access to swimming water until the birds’ preen glands come into play — which is not until they have passed the downy (fluffy) stage — because ducklings reared away from their mothers are not waterproof and will drown or get chilled.

Feeding Ducks
Offer a balanced ration according to age or type: starter crumbs for ducklings, growers’ pellets for 4- to 6-week-old ducks, finishing pellets up to slaughter, breeders’ pellets for breeding ducks, and layers’ pellets for egg producers. If they are foraging on ground that hasn’t beren overgrazed, ducks will pick up lots of invertebrates and other grubs to supplement their diet. Provide plenty of water.

Water for Ducks
Ducks need water in order to splash, which activates their preen gland, keeps their feathers well-oiled and healthy, and cleans their eyes and nose. The heavy breeds appreciate swimming water for mating, but the lighter ducks can manage with a small pond. The water must be deep enough for them to be able to get their heads under the water and ideally to be able to float.

The water will become foul and must be changed regularly unless it flows naturally. All ponds need to have sloping sides or ramps so that they can get in or out.

Housing Ducks
Ducks must be shut in a house at dusk to protect them from predators, and then let out in the morning. They are ground-roosting birds and need a secure, well-ventilated shed with a large entrance so that they do not get damaged. High windows will allow air to circulate above the birds, and the house should be at least 3 feet high. For nighttime confinement only, ducks need about 4 square feet of space each, but if they have to be confined for longer periods, they will need more space, along with a pond that can’t be knocked over.

Ducks are messy creatures, so you’ll need to be able to clean out their pen and hose it down. They also suffer from “bumble foot,” which is caused by infections resulting from injuries on their webs by sharp stones or rubbish. Bumble foot can be fatal, so grass or smooth surfaces are preferable.

Ducks are at risk from foxes and other predators, and ducklings are at risk from winged predators. Young birds should be protected in a covered run, while adults need protection at night and sometimes during the day. The protection may take the form of electric fencing or wire sunk into the ground and sloped at the top. If you are using natural water, look out for water predators, such as mink.

Duck Diseases
If they are kept well with access to water and room to forage, ducks are hardy. Worming and mite treatments are essential, and respiratory problems are often caused by a stuffy, over-hot house with moldy bedding. Crop binding is caused by gizzard worm or by long grass or grass clippings getting stuck in the gizzard, so make sure you provide grit.

The sudden death of more than one bird from your flock should always be investigated by a veterinary surgeon in case the bird has a serious disease, such as avian flu or Newcastle disease.

Produce From Your Ducks
Collect eggs every day and keep them clean. It’s difficult to get ducks to lay in a nest box, but they do often lay in the house, so keep the bedding clean. Table ducks need to be slaughtered at seven weeks for hybrids or 10 weeks for pure breeds, before they go into their juvenile molt. After this they will be harder to pluck, although the meat is unaffected. As with chickens, slaughter is usually by neck dislocation, but it requires more skill and determination than for chickens, and you must learn from an expert or get a professional to do it for you to ensure a humane death.

Plucking is time-consuming. Ducks can be plucked wet or dry, and small-scale plucking machines are available.

Keeping Drakes
Don’t keep more than one drake to a flock. They have high libidos and will damage the ducks with their constant attention. You don’t need a drake at all for the ducks to lay eggs.

September 26, 2010


Filed under: animals, chickens — Tags: , , , , — dmacc502 @ 9:52 am

Another view of my coop above – I lucked out in finding a few stacks of new shingles to use! I also saved extra space inside the coop by building the nest boxes on the outside – you can see the row of nest boxes in the picture, jutting out on the right side (which is actually the back of the coop). There are 8 total boxes for them to choose from.

The suggested size for chicken nest boxes is 15″ wide, 15″ high and 11 1/8″ (see picture for example). This can vary to a certain extent. My nest boxes are about 2″ smaller than this and work just fine. You can fill your boxes with straw or place some type of padding down on the bottom so the eggs won’t crack when they lay. I noticed that they tend to kick and scratch a lot of straw out of the boxes so I stapled a piece of padding onto the bottom.

I started off with 8 chickens and made a nest box for each chicken. It turns out they all used the same 2 nest boxes for laying eggs! I’ve even seen 3 chickens in the same nest box at the same time – therefore, you don’t need to make too many boxes. They tend to gravitate toward the same box. If you have a big flock – you’ll need to make more. In some of the links I’ve provided, there are some excellent pictures of nest boxes, diagrams, and “how-to” instructions for building nest boxes. A view of a couple of my nest boxes is pictured above.

A 2″ by 4″ or 2″ by 2″ board works nicely as a roost. You can also use a tree branch measuring between 3″ to 6.” I used a 2 x 4 and rounded off the edges with a circular saw, and these are working like a champ. This step is not necessary, but I’ve found that they are able to grip onto the roost better when it’s slightly rounded. A view of my roost and walkway leading to the roost is pictured above.

I made sure to place the roosts where the droppings are not in my way when I enter the coop so I don’t have to clean it off my shoes after being inside. Depending on the type of coop you build, you may also want to consider positioning the roosts where you can easily clean up the droppings.

Chickens seem to like roosting higher in the coop at night, so I positioned mine about 4 feet off the ground. I then constructed a walkway leading up to the roost since we clipped their wings (more on this in a bit). It’s basically an 8″ wide board which angles up from the floor to the roost with some make shift “steps” nailed on and spaced every 6″ or so – something they can use to “grip” onto as they walk up.

Back to wing clipping, just briefly – we clipped the outer part of the wings – on one side only. Don’t worry – this does not involve pain for the chickens in any way, and it prevents them from taking flight. When the wings are clipped, it’s done toward the outer part of the wing where there is no blood supply. We didn’t clip their wings at first because we thought it would hurt them. They kept flying over the fence, however, and and we lost one to a neighborhood dog. Thus, the wing clipping, and consequent ramp from the floor to the roost inside the coop. There is a great illustration on wing clipping at

The farm stores all carry a nice selection of chicken feeders and water containers but they can be rather expensive. I made a 5 gallon feeder and waterer using two 5 gallon buckets I got for free at our local grocery store – usually the bakery or deli section – and two 20 inch plastic planter bases. The plastic planter bases cost around $5.00 – I purchased mine from a garage sale. Of course, any local retailer such as Walmart, Target, or your local hardware store or nursery would carry them as well. The 5 gallon feeder I’m currently using is pictured above – after filling it with feed, it will last about 3 weeks for 13 chickens.

How it’s done: To make the Chicken feeder – drill several holes about 1 1/2″ in diameter around the bottom of the bucket. Make sure the bottom edge of the holes are no higher up than 1/2″ from the very bottom of the bucket. Next – place the bucket in the bottom of the plant base so the top of the bucket is still up. Don’t throw away the lid – you’ll still need it. Make sure the bucket is centered as best as possible in the plant bottom and then screw it in place using 3 or 4 screws until it is secure. That’s it! just pour in the feed and put the lid on and you’ve got 5 gallons worth of feed. I’m guessing this would be roughly 20 lbs of feed since it holds just under half of a 50lb bag of chicken feed in my feeder. I place my feeder on top of 2 concrete blocks – chickens are sloppy eaters and this helps prevent feed spillage. I’ve seen other people hang their feeders a few inches off the ground with rope. The suggested distance off the ground is about the height of the chickens back.

For the waterer, it’s the same method except you only need to drill one or two small holes (1/4″ or so) near the base of the bucket – and drill them around 1″ up from bottom of the bucket. You can vary the height or distance from the bottom of the bucket a little, but make sure the hole does not lie above the rim of the planter base – If you do, all the water will overflow out of the trough.

Dimensions: Each chicken requires 3 to 4 square feet of space – this will need to be taken into account when designing your coop so you don’t make it too small. I would suggest making it a little bigger than you need since, if you’re like me, you’ll want to purchase more chickens each year.

Climate: Build your coop to suit the climate of your area. If you live in a warm climate, you will need to make sure there is plenty of ventilation to keep your chickens cool. In cold climates, it’s important to keep out the draft and to make sure it’s warm enough so that the drinking water doesn’t freeze. An insulated coop will ensure the coop isn’t drafty either. But you’ll still want good ventilation, however, to ensure that fresh air can move in and out of the coop – minimizing the likelihood of your chickens getting sick.

Elevated Coop: An optional part of the design is elevating your coop. Having it elevated can help with the flooding rains and keep it cooler in the summer heat. It also gives the chickens a shady place to go during the day. I elevated my coop and noticed I’ve never had any rodents in it either – I’m not sure it’s a way to fool proof your coop from rodents or predators, but it probably helps to some degree.

Location: If you live in the city, check your city regulations. Sometimes, they require you to be at least 5 ft from the property line. Also, try to make a coop that won’t be offensive to your neighbors. It doesn’t have to be as pretty as the home you live in, but not too unsightly so as to reduce property values. Keeping on top of the smell is also key, since you don’t want to damage relationships with your neighbors.

It’s beneficial for the chickens to have adequate sunlight as well – for staying warmer in cold climates and for maximum egg production. Putting a window on the south side would allow for the light to enter the coop all day.

Deep Litter Method
You’ll also have to consider if you’re going to clean out the droppings on a regular basis or if you want to use the “deep litter” method, which is less maintenance. This is important to consider for designing the floor of your coop. Some people prefer to use a chicken wire floor so the droppings fall into a container under the coop for easier cleaning, less odor in the coop, and a way to regularly stay on top of the cleaning.

With the deep litter method, you essentially have around 4-8 inches of wood pellets, wood (pine) shavings, or other bedding on the floor of the coop. Every few days you’ll want to use a rake or shovel to stir the droppings on the top into the bedding underneath. The chickens do this on their own, but you’ll want to rake it in a bit deeper and more evenly across the whole floor.

The bedding/droppings will begin to decompose underneath. As this happens, the amount or level of bedding starts to shrink down. As this happens, you’ll simply add another inch (or more) of bedding so you’ll always have about 4-8 inches. By using this method, the odor is minimal. You really only need to clean the entire coop out once or twice a year.

I use the deep litter method and highly recommend it – it saves me a lot of time, and I can use that rich compost for our garden once it’s done! I buy 40 lb bags of wood pellets for my coop – most large retailers i.e. Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes will carry some. It may be that they only stock up on wood pellets during the winter so it may help to call the store in advance. Another great place to get pellets is at farm stores, and they usually carry them all year long. However, the price may be a bit higher.

I start off pouring a few bags on the floor until I get about 5 inches of pellets, spread evenly across the floor. I occasionally (once a week) rake the droppings on top, into the pellets underneath. Then I periodically add another bag of pellets – about every 3 monts on average.

I usually know when it’s time to add another bag of bedding – when the coop starts to smell a little and just raking the droppings into the bedding underneath is not working to eliminate this odor anymore. After a year, I simply clean it all out and start the process over again. You can find more information on this process at which, by the way, is an excellent overall resource for all things related to chicken care.

Predator Control
If you live in an area near dogs, coyotes, racoons, skunks, mountain lions, fisher cats, red tailed hawks, or bears (the most common predators), you’ll want to make sure to make your coop is predator proof. For an outpen made of chicken wire or bird netting, you should embed the material 8″-12″ below the ground around the perimeter of the pen to prevent the would-be predator from digging in.

If your coop is fenced in with woven wire farm fencing (or any other type of farm fencing), it is a good idea to place either a strand of electric wire or barbed wire around the perimeter a few inches off the ground on the outside of the fence. Again, this will deter predators from entering.

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