WHY ARE THESE THE TOOLS OF A CHICKEN BREEDERS TRADE

Well it's a simple answer, I mark the hens I believe that are dominating the nesting boxes (clocking) with the purpose/desire to sit on eggs and be a mum. As I have many similar coloured hens, I mark these potential mums to be with green spray on their tails. Once I have identified a (sitting hen) definite mother to be I add a spray paint marking green. Some mums climb off the eggs up to 20 days I've had a mum just climb off her eggs, I check the fertility of her eggs and as most are fertile and with no explanation as to why mum has climbed off, I mark her tail blue. Mum has wasted her and my time and she gets no more eggs under her for that year. And my final colour is orange, this colour denotes a mum who has displayed all the signs of a good mum, if she clocks again in the same year I have no hesitation in giving her another clutch of eggs to hatch out. Next year all the girls moult and regrow new feathers and start with a clean slate as all possible mums to be. 

KEEPING YOUR CHICKENS COOL THIS SUMMER (2016)

As forecasters predict we are about to face our hottest and longest dry period in over 100 years I thought today's blog should be on ways to keep your girls cool. A chicken doesn't have many options when it comes to the heat and keeping itself cool. Firstly the signs to look for if your chicken is too hot, as chickens do not sweat when they are very hot they pant, rather like you would expect to see in a dog, and like any animal they prefer to drink something which is cooler than their own body temperature to cool them down. As thirsty as chickens get they dislike warm water so if possible I change their water twice daily as the mornings water can heat up quite quickly in the sunshine, if changing the water twice a day is not possible then having a shady part of my Cree/garden is the next best thing. Hens like the shade as it provides them with a place where they can Lay in the shade and extending their wings fully and try and catch a cool breeze. There really isn't a lot a chicken can do to cool itself, however there are some simple things we can do to assist them. Firstly I make up ice cubes and pop these into the mornings water, inside the ice cubes I place some blueberries, not only do the ice cubes keep the water cooler for longer they also provide hours of entertainment for the hens as they try and work out how to get at the blueberries, as they try they keep swallowing mouthfuls of cold water. And secondly, I have made up some shelters using old blue barrels I had lying around (I have close up photo listed so you can see how easy they are to make,) and should you want exact details of how I made these please email me. The blue barrels I lift up each morning and pour cold water over the patch of soil before lowering it again, my girls climb inside and similar to a dust bath in winter the hollow out deep holes in the soil and using their wings flip cool damp soil onto themselves, in effect having a cold dust bath, similar to humans having a. lol shower I guess. If you have any other methods of keeping your hens cool in the heat please feel free to share your comments. 

HOW TO DEAL WOTH AN AGGRESSIVE COCKEREL

While you can't train a cockerel to be non aggressive, you can train yourself to be more cautious. give him the respect he deserves in his own home by never hurrying through HIS area no matter how much of a hurry you may be in or how busy you are. Remember you are entering HIS domain and if his girls are scared or startled they may screech out a distress call, on hearing this you have left your cockerel with no choice but to act. It is his job to defend and protect his girls. This is how your cockerel maintains his authority over his flock.  A little aggressive behaviour is part of his charm and is to be expected, If he were not to act on their calls he would not have the respect and loyalty of his girls and chaos would reign. pay him the Curtesy of obeying his rules in his home. A cockerels main job is to organise and keep harmony, in his house there is order, an orderly Cree is a happy Cree, a place where everyone knows their ranking (pecking order) and it is a harmonious one. Cockerels are not normally aggressive however the mating season can see your cockerel go from passive to aggressive overnight, although non aggressive towards the female of his species, it appears chicken keepers and breeders are fair game to him. I carry a stick in my Wellington boot during breeding season, simply to wave around in front of him if I need to defend myself. They have a spur and can be several inches long depending on his age, through jeans I have had my skin punctured twice, it stings a little, without heavy trousers on, ouch. With cockerels reaching sexual maturity at around six months old, and without any warning cockerels can turn on other cockerels and their attacks can be vicious, I spent so much time last year patching up my boys only to send them back to repeat the process. Last year ended with me culling seven of my boys. It's the worst time in any breeders life when he must take that long walk down the garden path, walking with the cockerel he has loved and cared for tucked under his arm only to return alone. It can happen where you get a cockerel that is naturally aggressive towards you all the time, i have dealt with this on occasion myself (Benny.) The first tip on training an aggressive cockerel, firstly you need to catch your cockerel and carry him under your arm, stroking him gently you are reassuring him that you are friends and of no threat to him, sadly with benny this did not work, I had a plan B, this called for a similar method, however when I caught him this time I turned him upside down carrying him by his feet, the message here was simply an object lesson I like to call: don't mess with me:. By doing this you are in effect rendering your cockerel helpless and taking away his control, you are now the master and dominate him. Ten minutes of walking him around like this will show him who,s boss. You will find your cockerel will give you a wide berth next time you enter his domain, You may need to repeat the process if you cockerel is stubborn. Above all, remember why you got your cockerel in the first place, a little aggression is needed if he is to perform his duties well. Always respect HIS home, remember you are the visitor, not he. If his aggression is in any way shape or form aimed at the female members of his flock this is a me serious matter, what you must do next is to take a very large cooking pot and: well you get the point. Aggressive behaviour towards his flock cannot be tolerated, he needs to go I'm afraid. Ps: the cockerel photographed, look at those eyes, menacing or what.. PPS: he is called Edgar is 7 months old totally HUGE, and very friendly. Looks can be deceiving.

TIPS ON RAISING CHICKS IN A BROODER BOX

It is frustrating when a chick/chicks die, it is annoying when you know these deaths can be avoided, More than mostly this happens not under mum but in a brooder box. A lot of chicks can find survival in a brooder harsh and may perish, overcrowding can be the number one reason for this and with many reasons. Firstly overcrowding, too many birds in a brooder box can see birds become trapped or squashed which can lead to suffocation, you Can overcome this by rounding off the corners so chicks do not get trapped. Newborn chicks finding themselves trapped/confined in a small space can quickly see more dominant birds pecking and bullying smaller weaker members of the flock, a second brooder is advisable as a back up for extra space for the weaker birds. floor space is VERY important in preventing a build up of soiling which leads to a build up of ammonia which cause respiratory disease leading to serious eye infections and in the worst cases, DEATH. A build up of droppings can also lead to a killer disease called coccidiosis. Dehydration can be another cause for concern, seeing your birds weak and unable to stand you should assist them to drink by dipping their beaks gently into water and observe swallowing action in their throat, suspecting they are weak your chicks may need rehydrating, adding some children's diorite (electrolyte) dehydration medication to your chicks water should perk them up in no time. Chicks need floor space to move about as they see fit, I can't stress enough the importance of space in your brooder box. 

HOW TO SEX YOUNG CHICKS

In some instances this can be a very simple process such as the colour/markings on the furry down depending on the breed of your birds, feather sexing is another way as certain breeds have their own characteristics such as markings and colouring, on feathers. comb and wattle size can be an early indicator usually with a males comb and wattles being redder and more prominent/larger than the females and the males comb will redden at 6 weeks old while the females will still be yellow. While the females may grow their feathers quicker than the males, size can also be a factor with the male of the species feathers normally being larger that the females. Head size can be used to judge the sex of a chick with the male having a more angular head, while the females may have a more rounded head. Vent sexing is probably a more exacting method but as this is difficult to do correctly and is fraught with risk of harm to the bird I am not even going there. For the back yard keeper i fully understand the need to know as cockerels/roosters make noisy neighbours. Some tricks taught to me (from the old masters of chicken husbandry) include, picking up a 3-5 day old chick in a similar manner to that of a cat picking up its kitten by its neck, the cockerels/roosters will draw there legs up towards their chest while the hens/females will just let their legs dangle. The method I use (and it works) i call the pepper method, entering the Cree and sneezing loudly, the chicks will run off while the males will stand totally still holding their stance. There are a whole host of old wives tales too, the Internet is full of wisdom. If you know a way I haven't mentioned please let me know. 

HOW TO SELECT THE BEST EGGS FOR HATCHING OUT

First is to make sure the hen selected is genuinely broody and is of an adequate size that she can easily cover the number of eggs you place under her. She will sit tight on her nest, selecting her favourite egg laying nest to hatch her eggs in. Any attempts to come close and she will hiss loudly while leaning forward covering the eggs with her chest, as she leans forward hissing she will fan and wave her tail angrily at you, the look on her face, noticing her eyes are less rounded as she glares at you are all tell tale signs. Your broody needs to be moved out of the nest to somewhere more suitable, low floor level for the chicks safety and away from other hens. Now you have your broody you need to carefully select the eggs for placing under her. Eggs selected should not be to large as little legs may not have the length to kick and penetrate the shell, eggs selected to small can produce weak off-Spring and should be avoided too. Shell structure is important in a hens survival, if a shell is to thin then it won't survive the daily turning actions performed by mum on the nest, and likewise if the shell is too thick the young chick will exhaust itself trying to kick out of the tough shell. Next is to select an odd number of eggs to place under mum usually 9-15 eggs makes for a tighter more comfortable fit under mum. 21 days later when you hear the tapping and the peeping, it's all over, job done, mum may sit on any unhatched eggs for a further 24 hours waiting for late comers, during this period she may ignore the chicks, this is normal and nothing to worry about as they have an internal pouch supplying their dietary needs for up to 36 hours. Mum will possibly not move of the eggs in her 21 day period but provide fresh food and water, she may take a moment to eat and drink, remembering to swap the food for chick crumb in readiness for the new arrivals. Mum will usually stay with the girls for between 5-7 weeks teaching them all all they need to know in readiness for the big bad chicken world, my mums always signal their readiness to leave their young by laying an egg. 

HENS AND THE BASICS

Hens have 3 basic requirements in the beginning, fresh food, clean water, and warm shelter (similar to a humans needs) get these basics right and in time you will come to recognise their other needs. A hen has a vocabulary of some 30 hen words and communicates well with their fellow Cree mates. You will easily recognise and be able to distinguish the calls they make for food and the calls they make for danger before you recognise any of the others. Hens like company both from their own kind as well as the company of humans. They each have their own individual personality. Where one hen will gladly fly toward you and rest/land on an outstretched arm, another will go a mile out of its way to avoid you. They have an established hierarchy (pecking order) which they themselves will establish, this is usually established within three weeks of your hens being put together. Woe betide any hen that forgets their position in the pecking order and steps out of turn, the others will be sharp to reprimand her. If you have a cockerel it will be his job to establish and maintain the pecking order and this is usually done without fuss. If you do not have a cockerel then establishing a pecking order can and may get some feathers flying as the girls fight for top position. Top position in a Cree has many benefits, sitting on the highest roosting pole, eating first, the choosing and taking of a mate of choice, also having choice of nesting box and not having to que at favourite nesting box to lay. Top dog will either push/move another hen onto a different nesting box or she will simply sit on top of the un-moveable hen and lay her egg on top of her. You will find every hen has her favourite nesting box and will use the same one all of the time. with the exemption of top dog the other hens will happily form an orderly que outside of the nesting area, the que will be based on pecking order and the hens will wait patiently standing occasionaly one one leg at a time. Although a rooster/cockerel does not have to be an essential part of your Cree unless you need eggs fertilising there are other benefits to having A cockerel. The Obvious one is for fertalisation of eggs, the less obvious ones are for protection for your flock, your cockerel will face any danger to protect his girls. In most cases laying down his life if that is what is required, buying valuable time allowing his girls time to escape while he is distracting, fighting off a Predator( namely a fox) Also any issues between hens is sorted out without the need for fighting, your cockerel will either give a warning screech to the offenders or will walk in between 2 girls squaring up to each other and pecking at each other's faces. In the more serious cases the hens stand on tippy toes and peck each others comb and occasionally the eyes are fair game and have known to of been lost this way, but this is rare. i have found less problems in My Crees ( 7 Crees in all) where a cockerel is present. Your cockerel will choose a mate, a favourit girl that he will mate with more regularly with than any other hen, in turn she ( his mate) will allow him to mate with the other girls but he and she will mate together more frequently, his favourite girl is easy to recognise as she will usually be at his side during feed time andMud ring resting periods. Your cockerel should be the perfect gentleman, foraging for food and treats and dropping said food at his feet then calling for his girls to come and eat, it is this gentlemanly behaviours that earns his the respect and right to freely mate with any hen he so desires. This he will do quite regularly and during the morning feed you will find your cockerel is happy to let the girls eat before he does. As he circles around his hens at the the food bowl at a wide angle being ever so vigilant keeping his ladies safe as he is constantly on the lookout for danger. These little thing don't seem that important to you and I, however it is these little things which earns your cockerel the respect of the flock. For this his girls can deny him nothing (if you get my meaning.)

SPOTTING A POORLY HEN

Something you can do easily do over a short period of time is spot a poorly hen, you will know get to know your hens and when you see a poorly hen after time spent feeding and caring for them you will know. A nice smooth glossy coat with bright feathers, active alert and with a bright red comb, head clearly raised and tail pointing upwards are all signs of a healthy hen. A loner tucked away forom the other flock members with no interaction will sound alarm bells ringing, (hens are social creatures) spending time in large groups or even in couples, but a hen alone for ant length of time should be observed. You are Looking to see if her tail is pointing downwards???? Is her head drawn in with no visible sign of a neck, are her stools hard or soft. Is she eating and drinking, Is she responsive with you or with the rest of the flock. Sometimes it's nothing that need concern you and there will be no need to worry, hens can have an off day just like we all do, if this behavious is persistent over a 24 hour period and your worried then a fingertip examination is always my first point of call. To be honest if you live in a large town or city you may  be hard pressed to find a vet having with a qualified member of staff trained in the daily workings of a chicken, and secondly your not going to fork out onwards of say £50 on a hen you've probably paid a fraction of the cost for. In my years keeping hens I have lost 7 to illness, and rarely to the same illness twice, when I started out I made it my business to research any and al of my hens symptoms and to avoid a repeat illness in the future. Firstly a finger tip inspection, stooping gently collecting your hen up into your arms. Now the fact you can gather her up so easily for me would be a worry as I do not handle my girls unless it is warranted. A fingertip inspection of your hens crop is my first job,;Is it full is it empty. A healthy hen will most times have a full crop, is your hens crop swollen or can you feel her breast bone indicating and empty stomach, could there be a blockage, by holding your hen upside down by her feet, any liquid swallowed and not digested would would pour out of her mouth, does her breath smell, if so this could be something called sour crop, this happens where your hen has been given moist food, maybe bread and it has not been fully digested and now mould is building up. Causing these  harmfull/poisonous spores to poison your hen by attatchin themselves themselves to it, how is your hens breathing, is it rapid showing signs of difficulty as in a respiratory infection. Can you feel her bones through her chest, everything means something. Overtime I shall cover most of the  individual diseases and the way to best treat them without the need for expensive vetinary fees. In the meantime if there is something specific you need advice on please feel free to contact me.  Personally I tend to not intervene on the first day, instead I  choose to believe my girl has maybe laid a particularly difficult egg, or maybe she is victim to bullying from the hierarchy in your cree or maybe she is just under the weather, hens are susceptible to colds and sneezes like we are, yes I said sneezes, I've actually heard them and yes they do sneeze. I once had a hen die from dehydration, unable to get to water despite having many water resepticles in place and easily accessible to the whole flock. With this particular hen It turned out that she was being bullied and kept away from the water, it's one of many tricks other hens can do keepping other hens from having access to food and drink, she will be chased and brow beaten, usually by more than one hen. At the time I was inexperienced in hen keeping, I had noticed these incidents but failed to link the two and act in time. A mistake not to be repeated, I prefer to think of this as a learning curve. Rule number 1, if you suspect on day 2 something is not quite right, isolate her from the others but if you can keep her close enough to her flock mates so they can see and hear her and likewise, We keep them close in earshot or visable so she and the rest of the flock do not fret or worry, they can see her and she them, this keeps the standing of the pecking order, they can hear her calls and they can hear her call. one way of doing this is by placing said hen in a rabbit/Guinea pig cage, maybe with a smal run. By doing this you are protecting her standing in the flock known as (hierarchy) the loss of sight sound or actual loss of a single hen is felt throughout the flock, they mourn a loss the exact same way we do. You may find that egg production is down, and the loss of a hen or introduction of new hens signals new (hierarchy) pecking order needing to be established. However if the loss Is that of a rooster/cockerels soul mate this can lead to a longer period of mourning as your cockerel will mourn his loss for quite some time to come and this has a negative effect on the rest of the cree. In the same instance should the loss be of a cockerel this loss will be mourned by the entire flock for a long period of time. Back to your poorly hen, I find Usually a day or two in isolation is a good thing, I can at least weigh out her food ration so  know exactly what she has eaten daily and check her water Isconsumption, then once she has regained her strength and is up and about again she is ready to re-join the rest of her flock.

A HEN WITH A PROLAPSED VENT

A prolapse can happen when a hen lays a considerably larger egg than normal, squeezing this out can cause her vent to prolapse. One of the reasons this can happen could also be a poorly diet. A hens diet is all about the protein content, usually the layers pellets contain enough protein, around 17-22% of there daily needs, too many scraps of waste food given can be a contributory factor in prolapses. Usual signs can be spotting blood on an egg, if you see blood on the egg there will be blood on the rear of the egg layer. Immediatly this must be cleaned from her, hens descend from dinosaurs  and are carnivorous, most of the hen food shops sell food containers in red, that is because hens associate the colour red with food. Seeing the colour red protruding from any part of another hen they will peck at it and keep pecking at it, usually until the prolapsed hen is too stressed to even come out to feed and eventually she dies, or is simply pecked to death. I carry a violet spray in my (hen) medi bag, once ive cleaned the area around the bloodied vent I spray it violet to stop other hens from pecking at it.. Vets will tell you there is nothing you can do for a prolapse and in my experience they are correct, many times I have donned rubber gloves turned my lady upside down and pushed her vent back in with a finger and some preparation H cream to seal the vent closed.  However a hen is a built in egg laying machine and again out pop her innards when she lays her next egg,  the vent pops back out, she gets bloodied and the cycle starts all over again, each time the vent seems to look worse, you can separate her from the flock, the question is for how long, in separation she can be given time to recover then you put her back in with her flock and she lays again and the stress is to much for her as she lays again and you find she's been pecked to death again through the night. The offenders are easy to spot they are the ones with bloodied faces. And rats have been known to get a smell of the bloodied area and feast on your hens innards during the night as she has slept soundly. I've used a whole bottle of violet spray one one hen over a period of i have no idea and the result is the same. She dies, a sad truth I'm sorry to say. And nobody does more to keep my hens alive than me, but in this instance it just does not work. 

Please feel free to email me your comments or queries.

Anthony metcalfe