On a daily basis, we get phone calls and emails from poultry keepers with the same or similar problems – Being... egg bound chooks (egg binding), misspelled eggs (large or odd shaped eggs) eggs with no shells (rubbery eggs) or hens simply not laying full stop – If any of these sound familiar, hopefully this article will have some clues for you.
Practical suggestions to promote plenty of good quality eggs, good health and well being in your poultry.
1/ MANAGMENT IS SIMPLE, keep your coop clean and pest free, the use of Smite Professional for good cleanliness, mite and insect control and regular applications of Smite Organic (Diatomaceous earth – or DE) for residual mite and insect control. Use Wood shavings or wood chip on the coop floor (not bark) hay or straw in the nest boxes – whatever is easiest, as long as you give it a good sprinkling of DE each time you change it. Change your nesting material regularly, don’t let it sit there and get damp and smelly – keep it fresh. Flooring on the other hand can be left a little longer – this can depend on the size of your flock or the size of your coop – smaller coops need cleaning out more often than larger coops – personally, our large coop only get done every three months, but we are running the deep litter system, so it is easy to refresh the chips on the floor simply by placing more chip straight on top of the already soiled flooring.
Generous coatings of DE on a regular basis keeps the insects away and keeps the smell away too – NEVER LET YOUR COOP build up high concentrations of manure to the point where it will produce ammonia, this is very harmful to breathe both for you and your poultry – if you can smell ammonia, you know it’s well and truly time to muck in and clean out, spray and refresh.
2/ FEEDING SCRAPS OR LEFT-OVER FOOD? - This is a big one and very, very important!
Hens will happily fill up on scraps at the expense of a balanced diet, just like kids in a candy store.
Good quality feed pellets or mash is key to healthy flock management.
Processed feeds should contain at least 17% minimum protein. This is required for all laying hens and breeding roosters – Protein in the feed you are supplying your poultry should contain Meat Meal and Blood / Bone Meal – if there is none of these listed on the packet, chances are you are feeding your poultry a vegetarian diet, many of today’s feeds are using vegetable based proteins – Chooks are not vegetarians, they eat bugs and worms which contain blood and love your meat scraps – so why should they not get this in their feed.
We use and sell Weston’s Peak Layer Pellets... it contains 18% protein and with all the right ingredients – our hens never seem to stop laying, even through winter, some even keep laying through their annual moult cycle – all be it a little less.
Make sure you feed “ad-lib” – not once a day – a good way to feed out ad-lib is with an on demand feeder such as a Feed-o-matic Treadle Feeder. This keeps the sparrows away too J
It is difficult for some of you though, as you don’t have the luxury of a large back yard, therefore your chooks might be confined – so ad-lib feeding can have its pitfalls – the last thing you want is a fat overweight hen that is lazy and bored – so if you can’t feed ad-lib due to a confined “Non Free Range” situation – you should at least feed twice a day – set the routine and stick with it, hens are routine animals, if you muck around with their routine, you will likely upset the balance.
Some issues which can arise with free ranging too! The filling up on grubs and grass and any other leftovers sitting around (Which is a no-no by the way, unless you want rats – Eeeeeek! ) - Keep your hens locked up until later in the day (provided you have a small run area for them), when they emerge from their roosts first thing in the morning, they will be hungry and thirsty, this way they will have good a helping of the correct feeds and fresh water available at first light, once they are satisfied, then let them out – this way any extras they get throughout the days is just a bonus, at least they have received the right balance at first and not filled up of rubbish first light – Just like humans, Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for us and chooks too!
Now back to scraps - we all know our chooks absolutely love to pig out on our table scraps – if you are so inclined to feed the scraps – do it at the end of the day before your chooks head off to roost – this way your hens would have hopefully already eaten a good balanced diet of mash or pellets in the morning & throughout the day, the table scraps are then treated the same way as we would a nice bowl of pudding for us... (We all love it, but know we don’t really need it).
Watch what scraps you throw out? If it’s something we wouldn’t eat – don’t give it to your chooks – Raw potatoes, banana peels, orange peels, avocado peels etc... If you’re going to give them potatoes or peelings – make sure they are cooked, as for the rest of the scraps, no lettuce or if any, just a little bit, same goes for bread and pasta, these items have very few nutritional values to us as they do chooks – other greens such as silver beet and cabbage is fine – Spent veges and over grown greens from the vege patch is fine too, just remember – everything in moderation – they still need their balanced diet before pudding...
3/ PROVIDE GRIT, oyster shell grit in a fine to medium grade – not too coarse, or the hens simply will not eat it. Oyster shell grit contains soluble calcium, and is used for mineral supply which is important for producing egg shells and strong bone development. It will also assist with breaking down their food – Chooks don’t have teeth, so grit is very important (Hence the old saying - as rare as hens teeth) – On this subject, it is not unusual to find whole stones and small bits of flint in chook poo’s from time to time – so don’t worry too much if you see this happen, it is perfectly normal.
4/ FEATHER PECKING AND BALD PATCHES ON CHICKENS – Deficiencies is often a problem when a bird has heavy demands for calcium, such as during the growing phase or during peak egg production - a mineral deficiency can cause them to attempt to obtain sufficient calcium and protein plus other minerals by pecking feathers!
As a temporary measure, add a calcium supplement to the diet or drinking water. This should not be long-term necessity. Once again, A good quality feed will contain Calcium such as lime for growing birds and higher percentages for laying hens and blood and bone and meat meals for protein. If feather pecking persists – if at all possible, allow the bird(s) to FREE-RANGE at least until the habit is broken. It keeps them busy and occupied.
PLACE A PECKER BLOCK in the run or poultry house. This provides added interest, occupation, distraction and has nutritional value as well – usually a very successful measure.
SUSPEND CABBAGE LEAVES OR SIMILAR GREENERY, (Not lettuce) either by tying into a bunch or making a basket out of chicken wire or similar and hang from the roof of the poultry run. Remembering a few greens are the exceptions to the rule of not feeding table scraps.
5/ CIDER VINEGAR (ACV) added to the drinking water is a good source of minerals –
it helps prevent and cure worms and coccidiosis too. Stockmans Friend AHE is the perfect choice of ACV, it contains Honey, Garlic and Seaweed – so plentiful of vitamins and minerals, which are all needed to return your stock to full health.
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