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!

 

Fun Fall Activities for Fido

All you dog moms and dog dads out there know that one of the best parts of owning a pooch is that they’re portable!  We love them so much we want to bring them everywhere with us!  And since it’s officially “Pumpkin Spice Season,” you may be looking for some fall themed dog-friendly Sunday Funday trips.  We’ve put together a few ideas, check ’em out!

Head to the pumpkin patch.

pumpkin patch dog

Wear matching sweaters.

Go for a hike.

Play in a pile of crunchy autumn leaves.

Enjoy some tasty pumpkin treats.

Take a camping trip.

Play a friendly game of football.

Have a snuggle and a snooze!

 

In Case of Emergency

Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, fires.  It’s not a matter of if these things happen, it’s only a matter of when.  Being prepared for emergency situations is absolutely vital, and being a livestock owner presents a unique set of challenges.  What can you do to help keep your horses safe in an emergency?

First and foremost, your priority is you and your family.  Do you have everything you need to be prepared?  If you yourself aren’t taken care of, how can you possibly take care of your animals?  After you get your personal emergency kit and your plan all settled, turn your focus to preparing your animals.

9 Key Concepts to Help You Prepare

Make sure you have multiple forms of identification.  There are plenty of options available.  It is best to use several in case one fails.  Having identification is extremely important, in the case that you become separated from your animals.  It is not uncommon for good Samaritans to load up trailers with whatever horses they can, without knowing who they belong to, and owners are faced with tracking down their horses afterwards.

  • Microchip your horse, just as you would a dog or cat.  The chip is permanent, long term, cannot be tampered with, and cannot be misplaced in the chaos of an emergency.
  • Attach ID tags on halters, neck bands, and/or leg bands.  These items will include your emergency contact information, are designed to stay on your horse, and have a safety breakaway feature.
horse id collar
ID collars similar to this are available online and very helpful in emergencies.
  • Note any tattoos and brands.  Previously raced horses should all have a unique tattoo inside their upper lip.  BLM mustangs will all have a unique freeze brand on their neck.  Horses coming from large ranches may even have a traditional brand identifying which ranch they came from.  These features are permanent and a quick way to help identify your horse.
shoulder brand, freeze brand, horse id
A freeze brand on the shoulder is a very unique feature that will help id your horse.
  • Record your horse’s breed, size, color, markings, scars, cowlicks, whorls, and any other unique features.  How would you describe your horse over the phone to a stranger?  Let’s say they’re looking at two similar chestnut geldings, how can they tell which is yours?
  • Take full frame, close up photos of your horse.  Get each side and front and back views.
  • In a real pinch, get creative.  Take a permanent marker and write your information on your horse’s hooves.  Grab spray paint or Blu Kote and spray your phone number on to your horse’s side.
horse emergency id
Make sure you can be reached if you and your horse become separated.

Have at least one halter and one lead rope available for each horse.

  • Keep them close to the horse’s stall.
  • In fire risk areas, make sure the halter is leather and the lead rope is cotton.  Believe it or not, a standard nylon halter could melt.
  • Store extra halters and leads in the tack room, truck, or trailer.  Just in case.

Keep medical records, photos, and proof of ownership stored safely.  These can help keep your horse safe while it is evacuated.  Is your horse on medication?  Do they have any allergies or medical conditions?  What do they normally eat?  Is your horse a stallion, or a pregnant mare?  These pieces of information will help keep them be cared for after they’ve been removed from the immediate danger.  You may also need to prove that your horse belongs to you, in the unfortunate situation that there are any disputes of ownership.

  • Have physical copies stored in a water tight bag, somewhere safe but convenient.
  • Give copies out to friends and family.
  • Keep digital copies accessible online in the cloud

Have a transportation plan for evacuation.

  • Have your own truck and trailer?  Keep them both maintained and road-ready by conducting periodic checks.
  • No trailer of your own?  Make arrangements with a reliable neighbor of friend who has one.
  • Plan out multiple exit routes and have a prearranged evacuation site.

Practice loading and unloading.

  • Your horse MUST get in the trailer.  During an emergency, there will be added stress.  Make it easier on your horse and on you, by practicing loading and unloading often.
horse trailer evacuation
Get your horse comfortable loading into a trailer, so you can evacuate quickly.

Evacuate early.

  • Don’t wait until the last minute.
  • Roads can close, conditions can change.  If you wait too long, you run the risk of being forced to leave your horses behind.

Have a multiple back-up plans.

  • When do emergencies go according to plan?  Basically never.
  • Include a last resort “shelter in place” plan.  What will you do in case you can’t get your horses out?  Where will they be safest on the property?

Communicate your plan.

  • Share your plan with family and friends.
  • If you operate a facility, discuss your plan with the local fire department.
  • Have instructions posted in the barn in case you are not able to be there during an emergency.

Have your supply kits ready and stocked.

  • Keep 72 hours worth of feed and water.
  • Don’t forget equipment like water buckets and hay nets.
  • Have a first aid kit made with supplies for treating physical injuries and internal illnesses.
  • A flashlight, wire cutters, and a sharp knife can really come in handy!

Feeding Your Juvenile Chickens

Did you hatch some baby chicks this spring or summer?  By autumn, they’ve reached an age where they can be considered young adults – hopefully young ladies if you’re looking for eggs!  If you have an existing flock, they should be able to join the group.   It’s also about time to switch their diet from their chick feed to an adult layer feed.

a juvenile pullet

A chicken layer feed is a diet consisting of moderate protein and all the nutrients hens need to stay healthy and lay eggs.  The key difference between a layer feed and other types of poultry feed, like scratch, is the amount of calcium.  Hens require quite a bit of this mineral, because egg shells are primarily composed of calcium.  Calcium makes up about 94% of a shell!

 

A hen will use all the available calcium in her body to produce strong egg shells.  Laying an egg just about every day means calcium is constantly leaving a hen’s body.  That makes it necessary to ensure there’s adequate calcium going in to her body via her feed.   This will help you make sure she remains in good health.

A diet with insufficient calcium will cause a hen to lay eggs with weak shells, or without any shell at all.  These are commonly referred to as “rubber eggs,” and although they might be an interesting coop find, they are an indicator that your hen’s health is compromised.  Parts of her body that are calcium rich, like her bones and beak, will be weakened and become brittle.

Any commercially prepared layer feed will already contain the right amount of calcium that your egg-laying hens require.  Some chicken keepers also like to have crushed oyster shells available for their hens to peck at free-choice.  Chickens are remarkable when it comes to seeking out the exact nutrients they are needing, and will snack on the oyster shell only when they are needing a little calcium boost.

Also try to limit the amount of supplemental treats you give your hens.  If a hen fills up on kitchen scraps, she will not eat enough layer feed to supply her with adequate calcium.

chickens eating, lay feeds

If you have a mixed flock, and are wondering “If lay feeds are made for hens, what should I feed my roosters?”  The answer is that your roosters can eat the lay feeds too.

For more information on chicken layer feed, visit the Poultry Products section of our website here.

Always Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth: Part 2

Like we mentioned in Part 1, horses have long teeth that continuously erupt out of the gums throughout their lifetime.  It’s good that their teeth are constantly “growing” because their natural food source – grasses, hays, and forages – are very fibrous and abrasive, and chewing causes the teeth to wear down.

Here you can see the portion of molar that is below the gum line. It will eventually make its way to the surface as the teeth wear down.

A horse’s upper molars are slightly father apart than their lower molars.  This leads to uneven wear across the surface of the molars, and can cause sharp ridges or points on the teeth.  These points can be as sharp as razors, and in the very least, will cause your horse discomfort.  At most, the sharp teeth can cut your horse’s cheeks, the teeth could fracture or become infected, or they could even fall out of the jaw.  A horse with poor dental condition may be losing weight due to not being able to comfortably eat.  They may also show signs of discomfort while being handled or ridden, for example head tossing while carrying a bit.  This is why routine dental exams and maintenance are key to horse health.

An average adult horse should have dental maintenance about every two years.  Horse’s with dental abnormalities, like overbites, may require more frequent exams.  A veterinarian or equine dentist will perform a process called “floating.”  This is basically a process of filing down the edges and points of the teeth, and making minor adjustments to the alignment of the teeth.  The procedure is not painful for the horse, but for ease of handling and manipulating the horse’s jaw, it is common to see horses given a sedative.  The purpose of floating teeth is not to make the teeth perfectly flat, as they need some irregular surface to grind up food, but rather to create a fairly level match between upper and lower teeth, without any waves or points.

Getting a good look inside a horse’s mouth

All About Molting

While the days are still long in late July, we are more than halfway through our annual trip around the sun.  Each day grows shorter as the sun sets a little sooner in the evening.  Decreasing daylight signals to your chickens that it’s time to molt.  Some of your birds may have already begun the process, and the others will follow soon enough.

What is molting?

Molting is the natural shedding of old feathers and growth of new feathers.  Chickens go through a few molts as they develop from chicks to mature birds, and after that they will molt every year in late summer or fall.  If suddenly you take a look at your flock and notice your birds look a little naked, don’t panic!  This is a perfectly normal and natural process.

chicken motling
Molting rooster

What can I expect during molting season?

Each bird goes through their molt a little differently.  Some might only lose a few under-feathers, and just look a little less fluffy than usual.  Some have it a little rougher, and go totally bald.  Most will be somewhere in between those two extremes.  Feathers begin shedding at the head, then back, then breast and thighs, and finally the tail.  Other than feeling a little exposed, your chickens should be acting normal.

You will notice a drop in egg production from your flock during molt.  That’s because a hen’s body will put all it’s energy and protein intake towards the growth of new feathers.  Hens might lay less eggs, or stop laying all together, until their molt is completed.  The molting process can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 12 weeks, depending on the individual bird, but the average is around 7-8 weeks.

New emerging feathers are called pin feathers.  They begin as a feather shaft covered in a waxy coating.  These pin feathers have an active blood supply.  If a pin feather is damaged, it may bleed profusely, even though the injury isn’t severe.  If you experience this situation, it’s best to use tweezers and remove the bleeding pin feather.

pin feathers molting
Emerging pin feathers

Once the pin feathers have full come in, the waxy coating falls off, the blood supply dries up, and the feather unfurls.  You may see these waxy casings on your coop floor.

What do I do during molt?

There’s a couple of things you can do to help your birds out during this time.  While molting is normal, it’s an uncomfortable process, and they could use your support.

  • Reduce stress in the flock.  That means avoid changing up the everyday routine, moving the coop, or bringing in new flock members.
  • Don’t handle birds unless absolutely necessary.  New emerging feathers are extremely sensitive, painful even.  It’s best just to let your birds alone until the molt is over.
  • Feed a higher protein diet.  Feathers are made mostly out of proteins (about 85%).  By increasing the protein in your chickens’ feed, you are giving them the nutrients they need to grow new feathers.  Star Milling manufactures a 20% protein feed that is a great option for molting.  It’ll give your chickens the boost they need to grow new, beautiful feathers

 

Chick Watch: 5 Weeks Later

Our little chicks are in their 5th week of life outside an egg!  It has been such a joy to watch Jordy be a mother hen to these two, and to watch the chicks growing and learning about the world around them.

hen and chicks
Mama Jordy and her two chicks

Jordy is the epitome of an overprotective “helicopter mom”.  She never lets the chicks get too far from her side, and never lets anyone else get too close.  It has been quite a task to get photos of them or to check up on them, because we can hardly get within 10 feet of them before they are led away by cautious mama.

As the days and weeks pass by, mother hen is expanding the area she is comfortable letting the chicks explore.  What started out as a small perimeter directly around the nest has grown to about half of the one-acre property.  She is doing a great job of showing them the ropes – how to find delicious plants and bugs to eat, how to take a dust bath, where to find the best spot for a nap on a hot afternoon, and when to take cover from danger.  She is in constant verbal communication with her chicks, and after watching them for hours, we have noticed different sounding clucks that must have distinct meanings.  A “come eat this!” cluck, a “be careful kids!” cluck, and a reassuring “mom’s right here,” cluck for when they wander too far.

hen and chicks
Keeping a safe distance

She is also starting to bring them around the rest of the flock more and more.  Chickens are not welcoming of outsiders, and any new chick or chicken is viewed as an enemy to be eliminated.  Sometimes even flock members that have spent time away, perhaps due to illness or injury, have to be reintroduced carefully.  Mama Jordy is keeping a safe distance, but the other flock members are able to see and get used to the new additions being out in the yard.  Jordy and the chicks are still sleeping in their cozy nest, and have not relocated to the coop just yet.

The chicks are growing like weeds, and at this age their juvenile feathers are really coming in.  Based on their feathering right now, our hypothesis is that we have two girls.  Of course, we could always be wrong!  It’s still a guessing game at this point, and we won’t know for sure until about 16 weeks.  We once had a chick we swore was a rooster right up until it laid an egg!  Turns out she’s just a bit masculine in her appearance.  So time will tell, but for now they are healthy and happy!

Always Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth: Part 1

We wanted to write a short little article about your horse’s teeth, but as we were researching, we realized there was more to discuss than we thought!  As it turns out, there’s a lot going on in your horse’s mouth.  In Part 1, we’ll introduce you to the anatomy of a horse’s mouth, and what’s going on with those teeth.  In Part 2, we’ll discuss why your horse requires routine dental work to maintain health and wellness.

OK, so here we go.  Your horse’s teeth, starting from the beginning.

By the time a horse is 2 weeks old, it has 16 baby teeth.  It is important for them to be examined early on.  If a horse is born with an underbite or overbite, it could create challenges while nursing, or lead to a lifetime of dental abnormalities.

horse teeth 1 year
A horse’s teeth at 1 year of age. Image source www.localriding.com

By 9 months of age, a horse will have all 24 baby teeth in place.  Most horses will also have 2 wolf teeth and the first set of permanent molars coming in at this age.

Between 2 to 3 1/2 years of age, a horse will be replacing most of his baby teeth with permanent teeth, and growing in additional permanent adult molars.  In a span of 1 1/2 years, a horse will have grown in up to 24 permanent teeth.

horse teeth 2 years
A horse’s teeth at about 2 1/2 years old. Image source www.localriding.com

As you can see, there’s a lot of changes going on in your young horse’s mouth.  If you notice them being fussy, unwilling, or uncomfortable, take a peak in their mouth and see what’s going on.  Just like in human infants, having new teeth come in can feel unpleasant or painful.

A horse will lose all of his baby teeth by about 5 years old.  Think about that next time you’re training and bitting young horses – they still have baby teeth and new teeth coming in!  By 6 years old, all 36-40 of the permanent teeth are in position and in use.

horse teeth 5 years
A horse’s teeth at 5 years old. Image source www.localriding.com

Horse’s adult teeth are called hypsodont teeth, or long teeth.  This means that there is tooth below the gum’s surface that will emerge and be used throughout the horse’s lifetime.  As a horse chews on their coarse, fibrous forage material, the tooth is worn down, and new tooth will emerge to replace it.  A horse’s teeth are about 4 inches long, with most of the tooth hidden below the surface of the gums.  By considering the average wearing down and replacement of tooth material, experts have calculated that horses have about 25 years of use out of their adult teeth.   As the tooth begins to run out, senior horses become prone to dental problems such as gum disease, diseased roots, fractured teeth, or loose teeth.

horse teeth in skull
A horse’s teeth go beneath the gum line and are about 4 inches long.
horse teeth 10 years
A horse’s teeth at 10 years old. Image source www.localriding.com
horse teeth 15 years
A horse’s teeth at 15 years old. Image source www.localriding.com
horse teeth 20 years
A horse’s teeth at 20 years old. Image source www.localriding.com

Check out Part 2, where we’ll discuss more in detail how the wearing down of a horse’s permanent teeth changes their shape, and what maintenance is required to maintain health.

 

Chick Watch: Week 3 – They Hatched!

Major pro of having a broody hen sit on eggs and hatch chicks:  she does all the work.

Major con of having a broody hen sit on eggs and hatch chicks:  you might miss out on all the excitement!

It’s a good thing we had our calendar marked with an approximate hatch day for our two Wheaten Ameraucana eggs, otherwise we’d still have no idea that the chicks were free from their eggs and out in the world!

We went to do our evening check up on Jordy.  She was being extra grouchy and protective of her nest, growling at us and biting us as we tried to check on the eggs underneath her.  So much so that we couldn’t get a good look at the eggs.  We almost walked away before we noticed tiny little “peeps” sounding off, and a little yellow head poked out for a split second.  The chicks had already hatched!

hen and chicks
Jordy and her two new chicks!

We didn’t actually have visible confirmation that both eggs had hatched for about 24 hours.  We only knew we had at least 1 chick.  It took two of us to move Jordy just enough to get a peak at our new hatchlings.  Two healthy, fuzzy, little yellow chicks!  We were disappointed that we didn’t get to witness “the miracle of birth,” but happy to see that the chicks were already dry, scooting around, and comfortably tucked up in the warm blanket of mama’s wings.

Jordy is certainly a proud mother, and deserves some kind of award for her fiercely protective, helicopter-mom style.  She is in constant communication with her babies, and is always on the lookout for intruders.  We can only get within about 5 feet of them before she puffs up and gives her chicks the cue to stop exploring and come seek protection under her wings.  She even attacked the dog when it came over for a harmless, merely curious look at the new additions.  There is no doubt that these chicks will be safe in her care!

hen and chicks
Learning important life lessons from mom

Slowly but surely, mama will lead her babies further and further from the nest, and teach them about life outside.  She will teach them to scratch and find food, take them over to the water bowl for a refreshing drink, and take a nice dust bath with them.  They will remain separated from the rest of the flock for a while, until Jordy is comfortable enough to introduce them.  Given Jordy’s ultra-protective instincts, it could take a while!

Chicks that are raised outside by a hen, rather than inside in a brooder, generally mature more quickly.  They shed their baby down and grow in feathers faster, they grow in size faster, and since they aren’t under the light of an artificial heat lamp 24/7, their sleep cycles are more regulated by natural light.  Plus they get the added benefits of getting plenty of fresh air and exercise.  They also learn better social skills because of the teachings of their mother, and can integrate into the adult flock fairly seamlessly.

Keep checking back, as we document these two chicks as they grow and mature in to adult birds!  Will they be hens or roosters?  Let’s find out together!