Beat the Heat! Keeping Your Chickens Cool in Summer

chickens wading in a small pool

Every year the summer feels longer and hotter.  We hide indoors, with the air conditioner blasting, drinking ice water and wait for the sun to go down.  We tell ourselves we’re moving to a colder state.  We manage it until winter comes.  But what about our animals?  What about the most delicate of our animals, our birds?  How do chickens beat the summer heat, and what can we do as chicken keepers to help them get through it as comfortably as possible?  Keep your chickens cool in summer with these tips and tricks.

Chickens cannot sweat to cool themselves off.  Instead, they pant, or breathe rapidly.  They also hold their wings slightly out from their body, allowing air to flow through.  In high temperatures, this is not enough to keep them cool.  In extreme temperatures, your chickens are in danger of heatstroke.

Provide an escape from the sun with shade, shade, and more shade.  If your birds are free-ranging around the yard, they stand a good chance of finding a bush or a tree to hide under.  They may even seek refuge under a parked car or on your patio!  If your chickens are housed in an enclosed run, it is essential that you provide them with shade.  Know the position of the sun throughout the day, and put up a barrier to block its rays during the hottest parts of the day.  If your birds cannot get out of the sun, they do not stand a chance.

Keep the air moving.  Setting up a fan in the coop or run will help your chickens significantly.  It will cool the surrounding air and reduce humidity.  This is a particularly helpful strategy for chickens that are housed in enclosed coops and runs, as a natural breeze may not always reach them.

chicken standing in water pan

Provide easy access to cool water.  Where do your chickens hang out during the day?  Make sure there is water nearby, so they don’t have to go far to reach it.  Put out additional water sources.  Make sure the water is not in direct sun, so that it heats throughout the day.  Keep it in the shade to keep it cool.  Not only do you want to make sure your chickens have drinking water, consider setting up a mist system, putting out a kiddie pool, or making a little mud and wet sand.  As the water evaporates off your chickens, it acts as sweat does on our bodies, and carries heat away.  They may enjoy walking through a cool puddle to cool their feet off, and a nice mist can cool surrounding air temperatures by up to 20 degrees.

Ice ice baby.  Put out frozen gallon jugs, blocks of ice, or toss a bunch of ice cubes into a feed pan.  You can even add ice to water dishes throughout the day to keep it cool.  Chickens can drink the ice water as it melts, or place themselves close to it to stay cool.

Frozen treats!  Frozen watermelon makes the perfect summer treat for your chickens.  Its wet, mushy, cold, and tasty!  They’ll enjoy eating it, and they’ll get a hydration boost from the melon’s high water content.  Don’t over do it and feed them too much, or you might start seeing pink droppings everywhere!

chicken eating watermelong

If your chicken is in distress, act fast.  If you see a chicken panting excessively, looking pale and lethargic, you must act quickly.  Immediately take your bird and submerge it up to its neck in a cool water bath.  Their body temperature must be reduced as quickly as possible and this could be a life saving measure.  Consider bringing your vulnerable chickens indoors.  Spending the afternoon in a dog crate in the air conditioning may not seem like their ideal day, but it is much more comfortable than the heat outdoors.

 

In Memory of Richard Cramer

3 generations of men together

This past Wednesday, June 20th, William “Richard” Cramer passed away. He was 86 years old and died peacefully, surrounded by family. Richard bought Star Milling Co in 1970 and was an innovator in the feed and egg industries. As most eloquently said by a current employee, “Richard not only grew the business with Integrity but also made it into a family,” and that I think is true to this day, leaving some large shoes to fill. There are so many people that work here or that have worked here previously – customers, vendors, etc. that knew him, through other businesses he had such as Orchard Egg Farms, Manchester Feeds and of course Star Milling Co. This photo was taken at our Christmas luncheon in 2017. From left to right Paul Cramer, Richard Cramer, Bill Cramer, 3 generations together celebrating the family business. I am glad that he was able to see what he had started one last time. He enjoyed meeting everyone, seeing faces that he had known from past years as well as new. He will be missed and his legacy will be remembered every day, in the success that he has left behind and in the people that knew and loved him.

-Paul Cramer, Director of Sales, Star Milling Co.

3 generations of men together

Take Your Dog to Work Day is June 22nd!

dogs running through office

Today is June 22nd, which means it’s Take Your Dog to Work Day!  How many of you brought your buddy with you to the job?  Are lucky enough to be able to bring their dog to work every day?

We are seeing a trend that more and more companies are allowing employees to bring well behaved pets with them to the office on a regular basis.  This perk is joining the list of more traditional benefits like gym memberships or subsidized childcare.  Perhaps because for millennials in the work force, pets are important family members too!

Caring for animals has many physical and emotional health benefits, and those carry over to a work setting.  They are a great source of stress relief and contribute to a more relaxed atmosphere.  Animals also help people be more social, and break the ice in tense or uncomfortable situations.  Rough meeting?  It’s a good thing you have a friendly furry face waiting for you back in your office, ready to love you unconditionally.

dog wearing glasses at computer desk
Why so serious?

Interested in getting hired at a dog friendly company?  Here is a short list of a few companies to look into!

  1. Bissell – Grand Rapids, MI
  2. Amazon – Seattle, WA
  3. Zynga – San Francisco, CA
  4. Salesforce – San Francisco, CA
  5. Google – Mountain View, CA
  6. WorkDay – Pleasanton, CA
  7. Zoosk – San Francisco, CA
  8. Ticketmaster – Beverly Hills, CA
  9. Petplan – Philadelphia, PA
  10. Replacements – Greensboro, NC
  11. One Call Now – Troy, OH
  12. G5 – Bend, OR
  13. AnchorFree – Redwood City, CA
  14. TRX – San Francisco, CA
  15. Kimpton – San Francisco, CA
  16. VMWare – Palo Alto, CA
  17. Build-A-Bear Workshop – St. Louis, MO
  18. Autodesk – San Rafael, CA
  19. Activision Blizzard – Irvine, CA

Virulent Newcastle Disease in Chickens

Being a good bird keeper means protecting them from danger, both seen and unseen.  One of the latest threats to rear its ugly head is Newcastle Disease.  What is it, what can you do about it, and how can you prevent it from harming your birds?  Keep reading to find out.

Newcastle Disease is a highly contagious viral disease.  The virus lives in respiratory discharge and feces of infected birds, and can be spread through direct bird to bird contact, or through contact with contaminated people, feed, or equipment.  While all birds can become infected, chickens are affected most severely and can die from the disease.

Symptoms include swelling around the eyes, swelling that may be purple in color around the wattle and comb, nasal discharge, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.  Birds may exhibit a twisting of the head and neck, and sometimes will die suddenly.

There is no cure for Virulent Newcastle Disease.  That means that prevention is the most important thing you can do to keep your birds safe.  Follow good biosecurity practices.  Wash your hands after coming into contact with birds.  Avoid sharing equipment.  Make sure to disinfect equipment and thoroughly wash clothing.  Any vehicles on the property should have their tires washed upon entry and exit.   Do not bring in any new birds to the flock while there are any active disease outbreaks in your state.  Quarantine any birds on your property that exhibit symptoms.

Humans do not normally become infected with Virulent Newcastle Disease.  In very rare cases, people in extremely close contact with infected birds may experience a mild fever or redness and swelling near the eyes.  Properly cooked meat and eggs from infected birds are safe to eat.

To report an unusual number of sick/dead birds, call:
Sick Bird Hotline
866-922-BIRD (2473)

To learn more visit the California Department of Food and Agriculture website here.

 

Protect Yourself from Salmonella

Eggs have been making headlines news lately, and unfortunately, it’s not for their delicious and nutritious qualities.  It’s because a bunch of them carrying the bacteria Salmonella made their way into grocery stores and homes.  So what the heck is Salmonella, and how do you protect yourself from an infection?

Salmonella is bacteria that is commonly associated with raw and undercooked eggs, meat, and poultry products.   The Center for Disease Control estimates that Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses in the United States every year.  You might recognize it as food poisoning.  Symptoms typically appear within 6 to 48 hours after eating contaminated food, and include fever, abdominal cramping, and frequent trips to the toilet.  Most people can ride it out and recover in about 4 to 7 days.  Young children, senior citizens, and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to being seriously ill and could potentially need hospitalization.

As much as we love our backyard flock of chickens, we need to be aware that they can carry germs!  We can get Salmonella not just from eggs, but from our birds, their coop, their food and water dishes, and the soil where they live and roam.

Eggs become contaminated in two ways.  If a hen is carrying Salmonella germs, those germs can pass to the egg as it is being formed before the shell is made.  The germs are then inside the eggs and we are exposed once we crack them open.  The outside of an egg can become contaminated during the laying process, either from the hen herself or from the bedding in the nesting box.

Chickens might carry germs in their droppings or on their bodies, even though they appear healthy and clean.  Salmonella bacteria can live in the environment, so germs can get on coops, dishes, plants, and soil.  It easily transfers to our hands, shoes, and clothing when we’re caring for our flocks.

It all sounds a little scary, but fear not!  We just need to follow some protocols for reducing our risk, and it’s a list of very simple tasks.  By being aware, we are better armed to protect ourselves from infection.

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling your birds or working in your coop
  • Keep your birds outside, don’t let them in the house
  • Set aside a special pair of “coop shoes” and store them outside of the house
  • Don’t eat or drink in the area where your chickens live
  • Don’t kiss your chickens or snuggle them with your face
  • Keep all poultry equipment out of the house
  • Discard dirty or cracked eggs
  • Stores eggs in the refrigerator at 40°F or colder
  • Cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm, with an internal temperature of 160°F or hotter
  • Make sure foods that contain lightly cooked eggs are made only with pasteurized eggs
  • Eat or refrigerate foods with eggs promptly after cooking
  • Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature for more than 2 hours
  • Wash hands and items that touch raw eggs with soap and water

By simply washing your hands frequently and cooking your eggs thoroughly, you can really cut down on your risk of catching a nasty stomach bug.  So love your chickens, enjoy your farm fresh eggs, but take the right steps to stay healthy!

What’s Up with Daylight Saving Time?

Time.  It’s complicated.  Some days it moves slowly, other days we wish we had more of it.  This Sunday, March 11, we lose an hour of it.  Daylight Saving Time will begin and continue until we “fall back” in October.  But what is the reason behind this tradition?

Spoiler alert:  It’s not for farmers!  If you’ve heard that before, it’s purely a myth!  Farmers have always been opposed to the idea.  Why you ask?  Because plants and animals don’t read clocks!  Farming schedules are set by the sun, not the clock, and changing time around twice a year can be confusing and make it difficult to get work done.

There are a few individuals in history who all had a general idea of daylight saving time.  Benjamin Franklin is often given all the credit, but what he proposed (rather sarcastically) was that people just wake up earlier in the summer.  In 1895, George Hudson, an entomologist from New Zealand, proposed a two-hour time shift that would allow him more time for bug hunting.  Not many years later, William Willet in Great Britain was inspired to conserve daylight while out horseback riding one morning.  He is the one who officially proposed legislation to British Parliament.  It was not a smashing hit with lawmakers, however, and didn’t really go anywhere at the time.

In 1916, two years into World War I, the German government needed to find ways to save energy.  They thought back to Willet’s idea of moving the clock to have more daylight working hours, and gave it a try.  During this time, coal was the primary power source, and there was a measurable savings in energy usage by changing clocks to capture more daylight hours.  In 1918, the United States first implemented Daylight Saving Time as part of the war effort.  The Standard Time Act that Congress passed including Daylight Saving Time, and also defined time zones within the United States.

After the war ended, so did the federal Daylight Saving Time, and things were left to local governments.  It got a little out of hand, and Time Magazine described the system as ”a chaos of clocks.”  In 1965, there were 23 different start and end dates just in the state of Iowa!

The biggest complaints came from the transportation industry.  They pushed the hardest for federal regulation, which resulting in the Uniform Time Act of 1966.  This established a permanent Daylight Saving schedule for everyone, starting on the last Sunday in April and ending on the last Sunday in October.  States can opt out, but the entire state has to do so (as opposed to city or county) and Congress has to sign off.  In 1986, Daylight Saving Time was extended to the first Sunday in April.  In 2005, it was extended to begin the second Sunday in March and end the first Sunday in November.

Who in the government is in charge of regulating Daylight Saving Time?  The Department of Transportation.  The Chamber of Commerce is also a big supporter of Daylight Saving Time, because if there is still daylight after we leave work, we are more likely to go somewhere and spend money!  Don’t be fooled, studies have shown that Daylight Savings Time does not actually save any energy in the modern day.

Are you a fan of Daylight Saving Time?  It depends on how you like to spend your day.  Would you rather have a brighter morning or a brighter evening?

Those who are big fans of Daylight Saving Time most likely live in a northerly place.  That’s because the farther you live from the Equator, the more drastic your seasons will be.  The top and bottom parts of the globe receive drastically different amounts of daylight based on the time of year.  In Fairbanks, Alaska, the longest day has 22 hours of daylight, and the shortest day has only 3 hours.  This is very different from locations closer to the Equator.  In St. Augustine, Florida, the longest day has 14 hours of daylight, and the shortest day has about 10 hours.

Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time.  That’s because is so darn hot!  During the summer, the only time it’s bearable to be outside is at night.  Residents prefer the sun to set early, so they can leave the house comfortably.

Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands do not observe Daylight Saving Time.  They are all located relatively close to the Equator, so the length of daylight is pretty consistent year-round.  Changing clocks is basically just an inconvenience.

Observing Daylight Saving Time continues to be controversial.  More and more people are wondering why we do it, and wonder if we should keep doing it.  More and more state governments are bringing it up as a point of discussion.  Will this tradition continue?  Only time will tell.

The Facts on Dog Flu

dog under a blanket looking sick

Do you get a flu shot every year?  Have you ever had the flu?  Did you know your dogs can get the flu too?  Here’s some facts you should know about Canine Influenza.

  1. Dog flu is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by specific viruses.
  2. There are 2 strains of the virus that specifically infect dogs: H3N8 and H3N2.
  3. The virus is spread through the air.  Dogs who are kenneled together, living in shelters, or socializing at the park are susceptible.  The virus can also be spread through contaminated objects like toys.
  4. There are no reported cases of dog flu transmitting to humans.  However, given their constantly changing nature, it is scientifically possible that one day the virus could be transmitted from dogs to humans.
  5. Symptoms include cough, runny nose, fever, lethargy, eye discharge, and poor appetite.
  6. Not all dogs will show symptoms.
  7. Cases can range from minor to severe.  Dogs can develop secondary bacterial infections resulting in pneumonia or even death, although the percentage of those cases is very small.  Most dogs recover within 2 or 3 weeks.
  8. Treatment consists mostly of supportive care.
  9. There is a canine influenza vaccine available.  If your dog is often interacting with other dogs, you may want to ask your vet about vaccination as a preventative measure.
  10. If you think your dog is sick, seek veterinary attention.

 

Winter for Hens – No Eggs, No Feathers

You brought home your first batch of little spring chicks a year and a half ago.  They’ve grown up into beautiful hens, each with a distinct personality, and each providing you with delicious, nutritious eggs like clockwork.  Right about now you’re asking yourself, “where are my eggs?” and “why are my hens going bald?!”

molting hen
a hen’s annual molt can start as early as late summer

Not laying eggs and losing feathers are two things that go hand in hand during fall and winter, and are totally normal.  If you notice this happening during spring or summer, that is not normal and could indicate a health issue.

As days get shorter and nights get longer, adult chickens will undergo their yearly molt.  Molting is the process of shedding old feathers and growing new ones.  It’s just like when a dog or a horse sheds out their coat, just with feathers!  The shorter daylight hours trigger this process.

Each chicken molts differently.  While some birds may only lose a few feathers and it’s hardly noticeable, other birds lose almost everything and are walking around practically naked!  Feathers usually shed starting from the neck and then move down the body.  Fluffier hens like Orpingtons tend to lose much of their underfluff feathers, giving them a deflated appearance.

molting hen
each hen molts differently, some worse than others

Unlike when a dog or horse sheds its coat, growing new feathers can be uncomfortable and quite painful for birds.  New feathers first emerge as pin feathers.   These look a lot like quills or the shaft of a feather.  They are narrow cylinders encased in a plastic looking tissue, and they also have a blood supply.  If a pin feather is damaged, the bird will bleed heavily, even from a teeny tiny cut.  If your bird has a damaged pin feather, it is best to pluck it out from the base to quickly stop the bleeding.

pin feathers
new feathers covered by a waxy casing

As the new feathers become ready to unfurl, the blood supply recedes, the casing falls away, and the feather is revealed.  You might notice that as your birds age, their new feathers vary slightly from the previous year.  A splash might be splashier, a blue might be deeper blue, a buff might be more gold, and so on.

While your hens are molting, their egg production will drop significantly, or even stop completely.  The reason for this is two-fold.  Hens require at least 14 hours of daylight to produce eggs regularly.  Less daylight in the fall and winter means less eggs.  Also, growing new feathers is hard work!  While your birds are molting, their bodies are using maximum nutrients and energy to replace old feathers.  This diverts their bodies’ resources away from producing eggs.  From your chicken’s point of view, feathers are more important than eggs!

You can help your birds by feeding them a little extra protein while they’re molting.  This can come in the form of treats – mealworms, scrambled eggs, fish, packaged chicken treats – or in the form of a high protein lay feed.

molting chicken
Molting is a normal part of chicken life, but it can still be stressful on a bird.

Your chickens will have completed their molt within 8 to 12 weeks, and they’ll have a set of beautiful brand new feathers.  They won’t return to laying eggs right away.  You might not be filling up your egg basket until spring!  As the days get longer and your hens are seeing 14+ hours of light, they’ll return to their regular egg laying schedule.

When it comes to Chick Season, winter is the new spring.

Traditionally, raising baby chicks is a springtime activity.  Chicks fit right in with the sense of renewal and new life that Spring brings.  In years past, when mother hens raised their babies “the old-fashioned way,” spring was the perfect time to do it.  But nowadays, with tools like brooders and heat lamps at our disposal, chicks can be raised just about year-round.  Have you ever considered raising chicks in fall or winter?  There are some considerable advantages you might want to know about!

raising baby chicks
Chicks can be raised indoors in any weather!
  • Work with the weather, not against it.

If you live in a cold weather area, your chicks will be kept warm and cozy all winter long in their brooder under a heat lamp.  By the time they have grown big enough to live outdoors, it should be warm enough for them to thrive.  It is also said that chickens who finish maturing during a chilly spring are hardier throughout their lives.

If you live in a hot weather area, shipping day-old chicks is less risky during cooler months.  While chicks like to be kept warm, there is a real threat of overheating while being shipped in spring or summer.  Raising chicks in the winter also gives them more time to mature before the grueling summer temperatures hit.  They will be larger, more equipped to regulate their body temperature, and less at risk of dehydration.

  • Take advantage of fall “end of season” merchandise clearance sales

Do you buy your holiday decorations the day AFTER the holiday, in preparation for next year?  Same concept goes for all your chick raising merchandise!

  • Easy ordering from hatcheries

Spring is still the busy season for commercial hatcheries that ship chicks to backyard chicken keepers across the country.  By ordering during the off season, you can skip the spring rush and avoid breeds being sold out.  There could be a reduced number of breed choices, but the breeds they do offer will be tried and true, fan favorite, heritage breeds.

  • Be more competitive in the show ring.

If you are planning on entering poultry shows, getting a jump start on raising your birds could give you the advantage.  Shows are usually held in summer and fall, so a winter chick will be older, larger, and have better plumage than a spring chick.

show chicken
Be more competitive in the show pen with an older bird.
  • It’s all about the eggs!

Let’s consider 2 main points.  #1 –  With any hen’s laying cycle, egg production is at its peak in spring and summer, and at its lowest in fall and winter.  This is directly related to length of daylight.  #2 – Young hens begin laying egg at around 5 – 6 months old.  If you raise your chicks in spring, your hens are mature and ready to lay eggs at the end of the season.  This results in them laying a few eggs here and there until winter comes.  Sometimes, hens won’t lay any eggs at all until the following year.  If you raise your chicks in fall or winter, they’ll be ready to lay eggs as soon as spring comes around, and that means maximum eggs!  It is also said that since the hen will have had a chance to grow larger before producing any eggs, she will lay larger eggs throughout her lifetime.  What’s not to love about that?

All that being said, raising chicks in fall or winter sounds like a great idea!  Give it a try and let us know how it works for you!

 

 

 

Eggs tasting a little… fishy?

Have you ever sat down to a beautiful egg breakfast, taken that first bite, and noticed something fishy? Yes, it’s possible your hens are laying eggs that are super funky!  So what’s causing it and what can you do to fix it?

The culprit: Omega-3’s.

Omega-3 is a fatty acid that is essential, meaning the body cannot produce it but must consume it from food.  Omega-3’s are associated with healthier brains and hearts, improved mood, reduced joint pain, and healthier skin and hair.  They may also play a role in protecting against heart disease and cancer.  Basically, Omega-3 fatty acids are really good for you!

eggs omega 3
You can find special Omega-3 eggs on store shelves

So what foods are high in Omega-3?  Leafy vegetables, nuts, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, some animal fats, and fish.  When it comes to sources of Omega-3’s, fish reigns supreme.

Omega-3’s are fantastic, wonderful, healthy fats.  But they have a dark side… a fishy side.  They can smell and taste like fish, regardless of their source.  Here’s a brain teaser for you – does your fish smell and taste fishy because it’s fish?  Or because it’s loaded with fishy Omega-3’s?  Hmmm…

Normally, when a hen eats her feed, her liver produces an enzyme that deodorizes the fishiness of the Omega-3’s in her diet.  However, some hens have a defective gene that prevents enough of the enzyme from being produced.  That means the smelliness from the Omega-3’s in her feed get concentrated and deposited right in to the yolk of her eggs, and passed on to you.  You can thank her for the healthy fats, but they’ll come at a smelly cost!

So what can you do about it?  Take a look at the list of ingredients on the feed tag.  Look out for fishmeal, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, canola, or canola oil.  These are all ingredients high in Omega-3 fatty acids.  Then think about what extras you might be feeding your hens.  Treats like leafy vegetables, squash, and beans are high in Omega-3’s.  All of those Omega-3’s adding up in your hen’s diet will result in fishy eggs!  You probably won’t need to eliminate all of those things completely, but try reducing them until you get eggs that are smellible and edible.

If your eggs get fishy, decrease the Omega-3’s in your hens’ diet

But hey, if the fishiness doesn’t bother you, there’s nothing wrong with the eggs.  In fact, the fishier the eggs, the higher in Omega-3’s, and the healthier they are for you.  So eat up!