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.

juvenile pullet
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.

juvenile 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.

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!

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!

Chick Watch: Week 2

14 days down, about 7 more days to go!  Jordy the Buff Orpington hen is doing a great job sitting on her eggs and protecting her nest.  Since we take a very hands off approach to this process, there won’t be much excitement until hatch day.

We make sure to check on Jordy twice a day, but otherwise leave her undisturbed.  She is doing just what Nature intended.  Her nesting location has worked out extremely well.  The other more dominant hens have come over to investigate, but Jordy feels safe and secure under the tree branches.  She has also been nice and cool, even during days the temperature has been quite hot.  Overall, she’s looking to be in great shape and performing her duties like a champ!

While out feeding the horses one day, we heard a great big commotion – squawking, flapping, running, what a scene!  It was Jordy!  She had decided she was hungry, and needed to take a break from sitting.  Every second she was away from the nest, she was a hormonal and worried mother.  She was puffed up like a turkey the whole time she was eating!  After about 5 or 10 minutes of getting some food, water, and a nice stretch, she made her way back to her nest.  This was a great opportunity to observe her and evaluate her overall condition.  She looks to be in good health, and doesn’t seem to have lost much weight at all.  While sitting on eggs, a hen puts her body through quite the ordeal, eating and drinking only sparingly.  It is easy for them to lose weight and become dehydrated.  Jordy is in great condition.

broody hen
Jordy puffed up like a turkey

It was also a great opportunity to go take a peak at the nest!  We have our two eggs, hopefully developing into beautiful Wheaten Ameraucana chicks!  Have you ever heard the phrase “to feather the nest” ?  As you can see, Jordy has done just that!  She has plucked a few feathers from her breast to make her nest a little more cozy.

nest of eggs
Two eggs we hope to hatch!

At this stage of development, our chicks are basically fully formed.  They are just tiny versions of themselves.  They have down covering their entire body, a beak, and claws.  Eyelids have developed over their eyeballs.  Over the next 7 days, they will continue to grow in size, and utilize the nutrients within the contents of the egg.  Did you know, an egg white and egg yolk is the amniotic fluid for a developing chick?  Eggs are very nutrient rich!

day 14 chicken development
Day 14 Development courtesy of The Poultry Site

 

Chick Watch: Week 1

Meet Jordy.  Jordy is a Buff Orpington hen, and is just over 2 years old.  Ever since she reached maturity, she goes broody in late Spring, and is always extremely determined to sit on eggs!  She often needs to be searched for, because she has hunkered down in any number of odd locations, wanting to make a nest.

broody buff orp
Jordy the broody Buff Orpington hen

This year, rather than fight her urges, we let her sit on some eggs.  We’ll keep up with her periodically in our blog series: Chick Watch.

Jordy has been “lightly broody” these past few weeks.  She would sit on top of the flock’s daily eggs, but would easily be shooed off.  She’d give her feathers a shake and a fluff, and then go on her merry way.  She wasn’t fully committed.  About one week ago, she … disappeared.  We didn’t see her in the yard, and noticed she didn’t come home to roost one evening.  So, the next morning, we sent out a search party.  She was quickly discovered, holed up under a pile of trimmed tree branches.  We knew this was it; she was ready to commit to sitting on eggs.

broody hen nest
Jordy made her nest under these branches

There is no rooster on the property, so any eggs laid by the hens at home do not have the potential to hatch.  They are not fertile, and can never develop in to chickens.  We purchased two fertile wheaten ameraucana eggs from our local feed store.  They’ll fit right in to our flock once they hatch, as we have majority blue eggs layers.

Jordy had chosen to nest under a pile of tree branches in the far corner of the one acre property.  Do we move her to the coop, or another location closer to the house?  Or do we leave her where she is?  A lot of thought went in to this decision.  It is often considered ideal to have a hen nest in a convenient, extremely secure location, where she can be easily monitored and kept safe.  However, there are several reasons why we decided to leave Jordy in her tree branch nest:

  1. No real threat from predators.  While yes, we realize that it is possible for a coyote or other predator to enter the yard, it hasn’t ever happened before, and doesn’t seem a likely scenario.  It’s a risk we felt comfortable taking.
  2. Privacy.  Jordy is comfortable in the back corner of the yard, away from the rest of the flock and other animals.  She will not constantly be bothered and feeling the need to defend herself and her eggs.  This is especially important because Jordy is lower in the pecking order.  The more dominant hens are pushy and nosy, and would constantly be invading her personal space were she nesting in the coop.
  3. Shade.  She is in an area that is shaded and cool at all times.  Last year, she nested on eggs in the coop, in July.  While out of direct sunlight, it was still so hot that we had to set up misters and fans.  There were many days that we were worried about the temperature being dangerously high.  In her tree branch nest she’s in the shade and will get a nice breeze.
  4. Security.  We took more trimmed branches and piled them up around her.  She’s got a bit of a tree branch cage going on, and is well hidden.  While we realize this isn’t incredibly secure, it’ll definitely do the trick for 21 days.  “Back in the day on grandpa’s farm,” hens would disappear and make nests who knows where, and then reappear weeks later with chicks in tow!  They do just fine on their own.

First things first, and a lesson learned from last year, we marked the fertile eggs with a pencil.  This will help us distinguish the fertile eggs from the non-fertile eggs laid by our hens.  Sometimes, when a broody hen leaves the nest momentarily to eat, drink, or relieve herself, another hen will decide to lay an egg in the same nest.  Non-fertile eggs in the nest need to be removed regularly, as they will start to spoil if sat on for too long.

fertile eggs
fertile wheaten ameraucana eggs marked in pencil

Given her isolated location, we set up a food and water station close by, so she doesn’t have to travel far to replenish herself.  A hen sitting on eggs puts her needs second to her duty of incubating, and that will take a toll on her body.  She will only leave the nest about once per day to eat, drink, and relieve herself.

Today is Day 7 out of 21 days of incubation.  What do our developing chicks look like?  The Poultry Site  has a great explanation along with photos of chick development as it happens day by day.  At the stage of development, our chick embryos have a head, neck, a body, and limbs.  The beak is beginning to form.  The brain continues to develop, but it now takes up less space in the body, as the body begins to grow larger.  In just two days, feathers will start to form.

Day 7 chick development. Thank you to The Poultry Site.

 

Keep an eye on our Facebook page and this blog as we post updates on Jordy and her eggs, which in about 2 weeks will be little baby chicks!  We can’t wait!

Unconventional & Alternative Watchdogs

Keeping animals on your property, whether they be birds, rabbits, goats, sheep, cattle, horses, or any combination in between, will attract outside visitors. They might be small prey animals looking for a peaceful nibble of your livestock feed, or larger predators looking to make a meal out of your animals. You may want to consider getting a guard dog or watchdog to protect your herd. Who better suited for the job then, well, a dog? There are a few alternatives that might surprise you.

Guinea Fowl

guinea fowl
Guinea Fowl make great livestock guards

Guinea Fowl are incredibly noisy birds, and make excellent alarm systems. Fans of guinea fowl claim that they are able to recognize familiar faces, and will alert the arrival of any strangers. They are also incredibly brave, and are not phased one bit when standing up against cats, dogs, even people. One especially great quality of guinea fowl is that they will even take on snakes!

Geese

geese
Geese are notoriously territorial!

Anyone who’s ever met a goose knows that these birds are all business. They are alert, with keen eyesight and hearing, and can detect unwanted visitors quickly. They will sound the alarm, and honk loudly when they sense something suspcious, easily heard by even a sleeping human. Geese are also notoriously territorial, and aren’t afraid to stand their ground. Their first instinct is not to run, but to confront, and they will hiss and bite in defense.

Llamas

llama
Llamas will spit, scream, bite, and kick at intruders

Llamas have been used to guard small flocks on farms for years, and farmers will a good guard llama will tell you they’re worth their weight in gold. Not all llamas will have great guarding instincts, but those that do will not only alert you to intruders, but handle the intruders all on their own. There are numerous accounts of llamas battling with coyotes, foxes, or dogs to protect their herds. It is advised to only have a single llama on guard, as having two means they will ignore the herd and just hang out with each other.

Donkeys

donkey guard dog
Donkeys make great guardians for sheep or goats

Donkeys are a great option for guarding grazing animals like goats or sheep, because they have very similar care requirements. Donkeys are the silent guard animal, and will rarely notify their humans of intruders. Instead, they will fiercely protect the herd themselves, using kicks and strikes with their hooves and bites with their large teeth. Not only are these territorial animals excellent for guarding, but they can also function as pack animals, making them useful in more ways than one!

Ostriches & Emus

ostrich emu
Ostriches and emus can be very intimidating to intruders!

If you’re looking for something really exotic, how about getting an ostrich or emu to guard your herds? Standing over 6 feet tall and weighing over 150 pounds, these birds are incredibly intimidating! They can run over 40 miles per hour, and can deliver deadly kicks with their strong, powerful legs.