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Archives for : December2014

{Flock Updates} Below Zero Weather

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So, here’s a thing that you have to worry about when you have chickens and you live in a climate that gets cold: frostbite. I’ve never had an animal get frostbite before. With my previous horses and dogs and our current ones, this just hasn’t ever been a thing I’ve worried about. Bit different with chickens, it turns out.

It’s been cold as the ninth ring of Hell since Christmas night here, with the temperature getting down to around -15 or so last night. I have the flock moved from their usual outside run and house to a makeshift coop with a lamp in our barn. I don’t like keeping them in the barn because it’s basically an open top small pen in front of the makeshift coop. The coop is a giant crate we used to use for our Jack Russell Terriers that had litters with cardboard boxes, straw hay, and wood flakes in it to give the chickens some bedding and a place to huddle up in. It’s not ideal but it’s all I have right now and it keeps them dry and out of the wind.

The first things I’ve learned to help keep hens and roosters from getting frostbite on their combs and waddles is to make sure that the coop is ventilated enough (so that the moisture from their droppings and body heat don’t build up) and that the coop isn’t drafty. I’m worried that where they are now, it might be a little drafty so that’s why I added the cardboard boxes – to help block any drafts at the bottom and to give them a place to nest in.

The next thing is to make sure they aren’t getting their waddles in their water. Luckily, the hens don’t have waddles (and their combs are tiny and covered by their crests), and Odysseus’s waddle is small, as is his comb, so it doesn’t end up drooping into the water dish.

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Golden Laced Polish hen feet

 

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Golden Laced Polish hen feet

 

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Silver Sebright rooster foot

 

The final thing I’ve learned is that you can put either Vaseline or Bag Balm on the waddles, combs, and legs to help give them some more insulation during the night. It’s important to make sure you’re using something that doesn’t have any kind of medication in it (like Neosporin sometimes does) and that it isn’t water base (so that it doesn’t freeze on your chickens). Bag Balm is a salve that was made for milking cows utters and is now used as a salve for people and other animals. I’ve read that it turns waxy when it’s cold. Vaseline, as I found out tonight, almost gets the same consistency as hair pomade when cold. I’m not sure if one is better than the other (possibly BB since it was made for farm animals), but from what I’ve read is that both are good as preventative for frostbite, with the added bonus of helping keep mites off the legs of your chickens.

Not all chickens are going to like you messing with their feet. Kinda like people and dogs and horses. Two of the hens put up a fuss, two didn’t object at all to having their feet and legs lubed up. Odysseus is a bit of a diva and likes to be pampered, so no problems messing with his feet, waddle, or comb.

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I don’t know if this is a 100% foolproof way to prevent frostbite. I would think that it’s kind of like birth control in that, it’s probably a good idea to use all the methods available to you to prevent the thing you don’t want while still having the thing you do want.

The other thing that’s been happening with this sudden cold snap is that, Odysseus has developed a snotty nose and a bit of a sneeze. This can either be a respiratory issue or it could be due to the fact that it is unbelievably dusty here, even with the snow. So far, neither the snot or the sneeze has slowed him down or caused any other kind of worrying symptoms. However, to be on the safe side, I bought some VetRX and Gatorade and have been dosing the entire flock with it along with more specific treatment on Odysseus.

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VetRX and a Tupperware of regular Vaseline

 

VetRX is kind of like Vicks for us. It doesn’t cure anything, it just helps clear up the passages to ease breathing. To dose the entire flock, you just add a few drops in their water. To treat the birds individually, you heat up the bottle by letting it sit in some hot water (like VO5 hot oil treatments), then get a few drops on your fingertips and rub it underneath each wing and on the nares (nose holes). Usually when chickens sleep, they tuck their heads underneath their wings. I’ve read that not every breed does that and it’s probably safe to say not ever chicken does this (just like not every chicken will roost at night).

Rub a few dabs of warm VetRX under wings. It can also be applied to the comb, waddle, beak, and feet or used as a spray or in a vaporizer too.

Rub a few dabs of warm VetRX under wings. It can also be applied to the comb, waddle, beak, and feet or used as a spray or in a vaporizer too.

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Before I do this with Odysseus, I bring him in the house and use a warm, damp paper towel to gently work any snot that may have crusted up on his nares off. I usually wipe away from his face and down his beak. It might go without saying, but just like the feet, messing around their beak, nose, and eyes might not be okay with some chickens and they might get fussy. Odysseus is a little less tolerant to having his beak handled but he hasn’t bit me hard enough to do any damage. Make sure that whatever you use isn’t sopping wet because you could end up causing your chicken to aspirate, and that’s not a good thing to do to your chickens.

Mostly what I’ve learned so far is that, chickens are actually really hearty. Even when they’re not “cold hardy breeds” (which mine supposedly aren’t), they manage and can thrive as long as you do your best part to help them.

{Introductions} A New Beginning

This is going to be the record of mine and my dogs’ (Toki and Arya) new adventure with a flock of chickens. Here’s a quick rundown of the first two months of flock tending that we’ve made it through:

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I was in a pretty severe car accident at the end of July. I don’t remember what happened thanks to the decent amount of brain trauma I got. I was in ICU and hospital for a week, then bed ridden and in a wheelchair and out of work for about 2.5 months. About a week after I had started back at work (26 October 2014), a Silver Sebright rooster showed up on my grandparents’ front porch. We searched around for his owner to no avail. Since I am living with my parents, I asked them for permission to bring him home and they let me. I think they knew I needed something to keep me from sinking into a depression from the accident.

Since he was lost from his home, I named him Odysseus and brought him home on 29 October 2014.

Despite growing up in a rural area, I don’t have any experience with chicken other than seeing the generic white ones the neighbors had that weren’t well cared for and pecked each other raw regularly. I didn’t know chickens came in more varieties than brown and white, let alone this tiny rooster. Neither my dad nor I knew that Sebrights stay tiny and that the roosters keep an appearance similar to the hens (no hooked tail feathers), so at first we thought that he might be a cockerel (juvenile rooster). After researching some, I found out what breed he was and that he most likely was full grown. How old exactly, there’s no real way to tell. He was thin, so he might have been traveling a lot longer and further than we thought he had when looking for his owners (I assumed he might have been a pet since his nails and spurs had been rounded off). He was a little hesitant at first with me, but the more I fed and watered and handled him, the more accustomed to me he got.

He got so comfortable with me that he started to make a nightly habit of preening my hair and nesting in the hood of whatever hoodie I was wearing that night.

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Eventually, I got help fixing up an old dog pen to use as a chicken run for him and Odysseus got to meet Toki Wartooth (Not A Bumblebee), Arya Stark and Winston Zeddemore Churchill. The first few meetings were a little strained but all parties kept relatively cool within eyesight of each other.

Ten days later, on 11 November 2014, I got an early Christmas present from my mom of four Golden Laced Polish hens for Odysseus (so that he would stop treating me like I was his hen). Pebbles was not happy at all with the addition of the hens and neither would the other dogs. Odysseus, on the other hand, was thrilled to have four large, exotic ladies around to keep him warm during a sudden cold snap that had hit us that day and would last a couple days beyond that. They were the most hilariously fabulous chickens I had ever seen. I wasn’t expecting or looking for a breed of hen to get specifically, but this was a nice surprise to end up with. Thank you, Craig’s List.

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Keeping with the Greek epic theme, I named the hens Athena, Penelope, Calypso, and NausicaƤ (in order of the pecking order they had already established at the time – eventually, Penelope and Calypso switched places). I was worried at first that they wouldn’t accept Odysseus since he was a different colour and smaller than they were, but they immediately created a flock and got on famously with no problems thus far.

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Since then, we’ve been lucking out here in Colorado with the weather. Until Christmas, it had been a dry, mild winter. I appreciated this a lot since I was using an old dog pen and old dog house for the flock. We got a cover on the top of the pen to help keep chicken hawks, owls, and other wild birds out of the pen and some tin along the north side of the pen to help block some of the wind at ground level. There hasn’t been any predator problems other than Arya sneaking into the pen while I wasn’t paying attention and stirring the flock up by penning a hen down before I got her out. No injuries to anyone, but it did trigger Odysseus to go Full Rooster. He started patrolling the boundaries of the run when the dogs were out in the yard, calling his hens over to eat, warning and rounding them up when he perceived a threat, and he actually started rushing me when I would enter the pen.

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About a month after bringing the hens home, Athena and Calypso started laying eggs. Calypso would leave them in the open (so I put a cheap store bought wooden nesting box out there for her) and Athena did once but then started laying under the house where I couldn’t see until a week later when I cleaned the entire pen and coop out. I ate the first 2 we got but then they were off limits as I had to deworm the entire flock. I did continue to crack them open to try and figure out if they were being fertilized. I still can’t tell for certain, but that didn’t stop me from ordering an incubator and an egg candler from Brinsea.

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Mini Advance Fully Digital 7 Egg Incubator

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OvaScope Egg Scope Egg Candler

I am pretty excited to try hatching a few eggs because I’m very curious to see what this little Barnyard Mix will look like. I’ve also place an order of 8 chicks from My Pet Chicken. I ordered the following:

1 Australorp
3 Easter Eggers
1 Easter Egger Bantam (smaller in size, like Odysseus)
1 White Crested Blue Polish
1 Blue Laced Red Wyandotte
1 Blue Orpington

I ordered 8 because that was the minimum for my zip code. It’s not guaranteed that all will survive the shipping, but I’m hoping they all make it. They are all supposed to be hens.

I have been on the message boards for Backyard Chickens, and not only have the people there been extremely helpful with finding out the breed of Odysseus but also just any newbie questions I have. I’ve also found a group of chicken owners here in Colorado that are just great. I might be getting hatching eggs from a couple of them sometime next year! I’m hoping for hatching eggs of Ayam Cemani, Barnevelder, and Dwarf Olandsk. These might be too expensive for me to buy eggs for, but I let the breeders know my interest so we’ll see what happens next year.

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So, as the size of my flock gets bigger the coop design gets bigger. Right now, I’ve drawn out for an 8x8x6. Since expressing interested in the hatching eggs, I’ve had to rethink the size and design to about 10x12x6 feet with a divide inside the coop to make two separate coops and storage and a divided pen coming off the coop. I’ll have to talk to my mom about where she wants me to start building next year and design accordingly.

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That brings us to today! Christmas brought us some serious snow and a cold snap in from Canada. The flock have been spending most of its time in the barn huddled together in a makeshift coop with a lamp for heat. So far, everyone is doing well. Odysseus needs to have his nose cleaned morning and night because of some snot crusting around the nares, Penelope needed to come in one night to have the ice blowdried off her crest, and two eggs have been laid (one by Calypso and one maybe by Penelope because it is tiny). Right now, the sun is out and they’re back in their pen so they can run around before needing to go back into the barn.