General care, health, safety, predators, and bio-security for chickens. Presented by Kara Harders and Jennifer Cook, June 11, 2019.
Welcome to our webinar on backyard chickens.
My name is Jennifer Cook.
And this is Cara Harter who is with me.
We are both small acreage management
specialists with both Colorado State University
and extension and the USDA Natural
Resources Conservation Service.
We're going to be talking today about
health, safety, general care, predators,
and some just kind of general, basic
information about backyard chicken keeping.
This webinar is being recorded
and will be available
on the Small Acreage Management website, BSESU
extension, hopefully within a week or two.
We'll hold any questions until
the end of the presentation.
So if you have any questions, you can
feel free to put them in the chat box
and then we'll visit your questions at the end.
Alright. So we'll get started.
As we were putting together this
presentation, which is not moving forward.
>> Is that one?
>> That's what I pushed.
>> Click on the presentation slide to engage it.
>> Oh. Excellent.
Thank you, Dan.
[Laughing] So, as we were putting this together,
I kind of wanted to follow a general
timeline of chicken ownership.
But first off, we want to mention that
chickens are generally healthy animals
when they're cared for properly.
They're not super — if they're cared
for properly and they're fed well
and they have proper housing, they
generally tend to be pretty healthy.
So it's not something you need to
worry about or excessively worry
about strange diseases happening.
So if you're just practicing preventative care,
you're going to be off to
the right foot to begin with.
But before you start, what we always want to
touch on when we talk about chicken ownership is
where you are and how the laws on poultry
ownership apply to your area just because it's
so different in different areas, counties.
Even specific HOAs have different
rules on poultry ownership.
A lot of times it will be there's a
certain number of chickens you can own.
And that's — we're not talking about zoning.
Your zoning laws might be different but a lot
of places will say you can have five
hens or six hens, up to that many.
And then you may be able to have one rooster,
but a lot of places have a no go rule
on roosters just because they
tend to be the noisy ones
and your neighbors might not appreciate the
crack of dawn crowing that comes with that.
So definitely look into whether or not you're
legal to have them in all those different areas
and HOA type things that might affect you.
And then secondly, once it's
all legal you want to make sure
that you have the different facilities
that you're going to need for chickens.
And so if you have space indoors for a
small pen, this is obviously most mandatory
if you are going to start from chicks because
they can't just go outside to begin with.
They need heat and protection, especially from
things like drafts and even smaller predators.
They're just a lot more fragile.
And then sometimes you'll need that small pen or
a place to put them in inside if it gets very,
very cold and that's something you choose to do.
So just keep in mind that you may come into
emergencies where you need space indoors
for chicken and what you would do in that case.
And then, obviously, is the
space outdoors for a coop.
It's not ideal to keep chickens inside.
I've seen a few people who tried to
do it too long and it becomes kind
of a stinky, almost health hazard type mess.
So do your best to find a reasonable
size coop that you can keep them outside.
And we're going to talk a
lot about coops later on.
And then what type of chicken
you're looking for.
Are you looking for laying chickens
who are going to lay you eggs regularly
and that's the number one reason
you're going to have them?
Are there going to be pet chickens?
There's a ton of breeds available
today of chickens.
And some of — all chickens will lay eggs if
they're hens at some point in their lives,
but if they're not specifically a laying
chicken, a pet chicken makes a great pet.
Oftentimes, they can be more
friendly or more affectionate
but they definitely serve a
different purpose at that point.
Sometimes it's both.
You can get a bird that will lay
eggs regularly and is also friendly.
And then there's meat chickens which is
a very different process and something
that we're probably not going
to touch on at all today.
But that's also another option if
that's something you're looking into.
So housing the chicks — you want to
start off especially when they're very,
very fresh and new with a pretty warm pen.
The brooder temperature if you're hatching
eggs is 99.5, so you're usually somewhere close
to that when they transition
into their small pen indoors.
And as the chickens get older, or the chicks
get older, you want to slowly cool down that pen
so that they acclimate as they get older
and they will also not be
needing that hot of a temperature.
And there's lots of different rules on that.
I know there's a chart that says by the week you
reduce the temperature by a couple of degrees,
and it's not quite fine-tuned science of that
but it definitely is something that you need
to keep in mind that you will be
lowering that temperature as they grow.
And then having a pen that is warmest in
the center, or where that heat light is,
and then the corners are cooling.
And that way chicks can move to whatever
temperature they feel most comfortable in.
And then the bedding of some sort
— shavings are a popular choice.
I know shredded paper like
newspapers is also a common one.
And there's a lot of schools of thought on
the type of bedding you're using for chickens.
So the most important thing is you want
to make sure that it's not some type
of bedding that could be harmful to them.
I know dustier shavings, like if
they're really powdery type shavings,
all that dust in the air
can be hard on their lungs.
So you would want to avoid an
overly dusty bedding source as well.
And then obviously if it was something you
didn't want them to eat that could be toxic,
you wouldn't want to use that either.
And then pick a draft-free area.
So garages or mudrooms in the house
are a common place for chickens,
or baby chicks when they're inside your house.
Garages, depending on whether your garage
is finished or heated or how cold it gets,
is an important thing to consider.
A lot of times garages will have big
temperature fluctuations throughout the day,
especially depending on the season.
So if you think that your garage is 30 degrees
cooler at night than it is during the day,
you're going to either have to do something
to accommodate for the heat in the chick pen
or try to regulate the temperature
of your garage as a whole.
And then obviously clean
water and chick starter food.
There's a special type of
chicken food that you feed
to chicks that's got the right
nutrient content that they'll be needing
and it's also usually broken up into smaller
pieces so it's easier for them to eat as well.
So make sure that when you buy chick food,
you're not buying adult chicken food.
You're buying a chick starter food.
So — .
You really don't need that much
equipment to start up with chick raising.
A container of some sort that they can't
hop out of and you'll have to modify
that as they get older, but that galvanized
water trough right there is usually good
for at least a few weeks of
raising them inside your house.
You've got your shavings, a brooder light.
The thermometer is — I highly
recommend it, especially if you're new
to this or even if you're experienced.
It's good to be able to look in there and
get a visual of what temperature it's at.
You can read the behaviors of chicks to
see if you've got the right temperature,
but it's always nice to be able to look
in there and see, oh, you're at exactly.
And then the food and feeders and
water is in that bottom corner.
Those are — there's a lot of different
ways that you can provide food and water
for your chicks, but these are common,
easy to use, easy to clean ways
that you can provide those to them.
But it's kind of been time tested.
I think they've been using those same systems
for a long time so they obviously work well.
That's not to say that another form
that you might find might not be
a well working method as well.
Choosing your chicks.
I remember being in 4-H and this was one of
my favorite parts of being in 4-H was going
through the catalogs and picking out
what types of chickens we were going
to get that year for our 4-H projects.
And part of it is because there are so many
different kinds of chickens and forms and types
and everything that you can get that
it can be a bit of an adventure.
But it can also be a bit overwhelming if
you're not 100% sure what you're looking for
or what some of the breeds might entail.
So if you have the time and you think
you know what type of chicken you want,
it's definitely good to research
that breed a little bit just
to make sure you know what you're getting into.
And so when you go through and you
order chicks, generally a catalog
or a store will have three
different options of a breed.
And it's between males, females,
and straight run.
And the hatcheries will often specs chicks
and they have people that are very good at it
and they are approximately 97% accurate.
So you've got a good shot of getting
mostly what you want if you order that.
And so females are generally going to
be your most expensive option and that's
because more people want females.
If they — you only need one
rooster to tend to quite a few hens.
If you're looking for egg layers, obviously
a rooster isn't going to do you much good.
And so when you look at the prices
on that chart at the bottom,
you've got males being the cheapest,
females being the most expensive,
and then the straight run is
called that because it's just —
it's supposed to be a group of
chicks that have not been sexed
and so you should have approximately a
50-50 shot of what you get with that.
I've not read any literature proving this
but I have experience with various hatcheries
that sometimes you get a higher percentage
of male chickens when you order that
and that could be that they couldn't really
sell them so they sprinkle some of them back
into that straight run to get that.
So if you are very hung up
on wanting a specific gender,
it is best to pay that little bit
of extra money and get females.
But there are breeds that — for example, the
Phoenix Rooster is very attractive looking
and grows longer tail feathers and
is more ornamental than anything.
And so I believe the males
might be more expensive
than the straight run or
the females of that breed.
So it's just something to understand
why they priced them the way they did.
And then once you bring chicks back home, it
is best to handle them as little as possible.
They're just stressed.
You know, they didn't exist at all 21 days
ago and then they hatched out of an egg.
And then a lot of times they
get shipped immediately.
And so they've gone through
a lot of life changes.
There's definitely a lot of stress going
on by the time that they finally arrive
at your home and your pen and your situation.
So do what you can to touch
them as little as possible.
There's also health reasons.
You don't know if they're carrying
coccidiosis or anything like that.
So it's just best to be hands off for at least
a while, as long as you can push it off for.
And then make sure they always
have food and water available.
You can see in that one picture
there's marbles in the water.
And there's — there have been, I guess,
sayings that chickens can fall asleep and drown
in their water, which I have heard a
little bit more commonly with turkeys.
But if it's something that you feel like doing
that would make you sleep better at night,
by all means, clean some marbles
and toss them in their water
and it makes them a little bit
easier for them to maybe drink out of
that and prevents that drowning risk.
And then adjust the heat light
based on the chicks' behaviors.
I love this picture because it's got —
you know, it shows a proper chick area.
It's got feed, the water, the heat lamp.
But you've also got chicks all
over the place in this pen.
You've got one in the back
who looks like he's going
to take a nap and he's not after the water.
He's just over there probably because
maybe he got a little bit too warm
but he has that cool area to go to.
You've got the majority of the chicks
pretty well centered under that heat lamp.
But it looks like they're not really
avoiding cooling down to get food or water.
They look pretty happy to do that as well.
So you want your chicks to
be pretty well spread out.
If you come in and you see that they're all
clustered together underneath that heat light,
that's a red flag that it's not warm enough.
And chicks can actually cause suffocate —
they can suffocate each other
when they're doing that,
especially with some of the
meat bird type varieties.
They'll — they're just a little bit bigger
and they can definitely suffocate the birds
that are on the bottom of the pile.
And likewise, if they're all spread out at
the edges, that's a good sign that you need
to lower the heat in the pen to help
them feel more comfortable in their home.
And eventually, your chickens
will make it to the teenage stage,
and they're kind of — they
look goofy, for sure.
But they're awkward enough and they
have enough feathers to sort of fly,
but they don't have the weight of a
full-grown chicken to really keep them down.
So they become escape artists, if nothing else.
You'll probably walk in one day and see your
cute little chicks having developed a few
feathers and one problematic chick
sitting on the edge of the open-topped pen
and that's the sign that you need
to start covering that top up.
So it's usually gradual modifications
to help them because they're still going
to need the protection from
drafts and small predators.
Even mice or rats could cause some
chicken death if they're very small still.
So you want to make sure that they're
safe but also provide a way for them
to not escape your careful penning of them.
And another question we get quite a bit is
whether you should be buying adult birds
And there's definitely pros
and cons to buying adult birds.
The obvious pro if you're
after an egg laying breed is
that they should already be laying eggs.
So you're not worried about housing the chickens
inside your house as they're young or cleaning
out that pen every third day because it smells
funny and someone's complaining about it.
So they can go straight outside
most of the time.
I suppose if it's the dead of winter, they
might need a little bit of gradual movement.
But usually they can go straight
outside into their coop.
Chick mortality is a pretty common thing.
You might lose one or two here and
there but when the chickens are adults,
that risk goes down considerably.
They don't need an indoor pen.
We talked about that.
Fewer temperature concerns.
And there's pretty much no risk of wrong gender.
So you're going to — chicks can be hard to just
look at and tell if it's a hen or a rooster,
but an adult chicken should be very obvious.
And so you won't get that 3% mixup.
The cons would be biosecurity issues.
As an extension person and NRCS, I think
that is immediately what comes to my mind
when we're dealing with backyard flocks is if
you're getting chickens from another location.
Unless you knew that person very well and
how those chickens were being treated,
you don't know if they could
be carrying a disease.
Or maybe the 12 chickens that you're
buying came from three different flocks
which has tripled your risk
for a disease outbreak,
since they're coming from
so many different farms.
So there's just a little bit of the unknown.
Another point of unknown is the age.
A lot of times once a chicken
gets to adulthood, you can't —
it's hard to visually tell unless you're
an expert, which even I couldn't tell most
of the time, how old that chicken
is once it looks like an adult.
And so the egg laying hens will
start to decline in laying eggs,
you know, at two or three years old.
And so if someone sells you
a six-year-old chicken,
you've definitely missed the best
egg laying years of her life.
But if you're paying full price for her, that
could be a problem or a disappointment to you.
Flock behaviors — you are more likely
to have picking and aggressive hens
when you're merging flocks or you don't know if
maybe, like I said, if it had been three flocks
that were recently joined, you don't
know what those behaviors are going to do
or if you're going to have issues with that.
It is stressful, probably about the same lines
as having a new baby chick
brought to your house.
But it is a stressor that you need to remember.
That animal's life has changed.
And there's an increased cost associated with
buying adults since they've been fed and cared
for for however many months or years.
It costs a little bit more than
just the heat to incubate the egg.
And one of the things I want to point out about
that is this is a Craigslist ad from Black Hawk,
Colorado, and they are selling
Buff Orpington pullets.
They claim they're five months old
and they should start laying soon.
And so they're — Buff Orpington
is a great breed.
They're not overly inexpensive as chicks, even.
They make good layers.
They're good for especially winter areas
where the winters get colder — I'm sorry —
high elevation areas where they could have
colder winters because they're a bigger breed
and so they put up with that
temperature change better.
And they want $10 per bird.
And if you break this down, you're
going to pay about $2.80 for a chick.
I broke down the math of how much it would cost
to feed each chicken to about five months old.
And that would be $9.50.
So not counting the labor, the
electricity, the housing, or anything else,
just the cost of the bird and
the feed is already $12.30
which is considerably less
than their asking price.
And perhaps this is a person who realized
they could no longer keep their chickens
and just wants to get rid of them.
But it also makes you wonder if
there is something else going on.
Perhaps these are the six-year-old
chickens that are no longer laying,
since it says they should start laying soon.
They're not currently laying.
So just watch out for red flags.
And a lot of times if something seems
too good to be true, it probably is.
If you are buying flocks and
you choose to merge a flock,
we touched a little bit earlier on this.
Adding new chickens can cause behavioral issues.
You'll often have a bullying system
until they get themselves all worked
out which usually doesn't result in anything
too problematic, but sometimes you'll end
up having a chicken get too bloodied up over it.
The biosecurity issue, opportunity
for contamination —
you don't know what diseases one
flock may be introducing to the other.
And if you're free ranging your chickens,
they don't have that same kind of anchor,
home feeling to your choop, probably.
And so if they're being picked on and
bullied by some of the other chickens,
you might have a hard time getting them to stay
in their coop before they've been trained to it.
And when you're dealing with a large
poultry producer, generally they will change
out their entire flock at one
time just so that they don't have
to deal with a lot of these problems.
They'll get however many chickens they
need for egg production or meat production.
And then when the meat birds are harvested or
the egg layers are not at their peak production
for what that company is looking for,
they get rid of everything at one time
which isn't always an overly
realistic option for the backyard owner
who is viewing their chickens more as a
pet than an income source or something.
But it is something to consider
doing if possible for you just
because it solves and mediates
a lot of problems.
And the behavior — so if
you are merging flocks,
having extra space is generally
a benefit to that.
A coop that's big enough for 15 chickens might
not be enough space for two groups of five just
because they're not quite
happy with each other yet.
And this is one of those points that a lot of
times when I give workshops or presentations
on chickens, I'll have someone say, "but I
read this in this" which contradicts a fact.
And generally they're right.
There's a lot of things to go
back and forth on chicken care.
And one for this example would be that
the more chickens you have in a coop
or the less additional coop space,
the warmer they'll stay in the winter
because they huddle together and
that body temperature helps out.
So just thought I'd throw that in as a fun
fact that generally you do want your coop
to be the right size for the
number of chickens that you have.
So when you are picking out or
designing your coop, there's a few things
that you want to make sure about for it.
You want to make sure that it's easy to clean.
Since you're going to be hopefully cleaning
it regularly for many years to come,
that should be a big factor
on whoever is cleaning it.
Protecting from temperatures, wind,
sun, rain, predators, wild birds.
It needs to be their safe space.
So you need to make sure that it really
crosses off all the things that a chicken needs
to be considered to have good shelter.
It needs to have good drainage around it.
You want to make sure you don't build
your coop in a low spot because then
when we get a heavy rainstorm, all of
a sudden your chickens are standing
in inches of water or mud.
And that — not only is that problematic but
it will also make it take longer for the coop
to dry out when it does rain which causes smell
issues and disease issues and you just want
to make sure there's good
drainage for your coop.
And then another touch on space.
Generally you need about one to four
square feet of coop per chicken.
And this is a figure that varies
a little bit from source to source
but I like to use this sort of a
definition because if you have 100 chickens,
you're going to be much closer to the
needing one square foot of coop per chicken.
And then for — since you never want to
keep just one chicken, it needs to always be
at least two, an eight square
foot flooring on a coop
for two chickens might be
a little bit more accurate.
But and it's — that also varies
on the size of your chicken.
If you're getting Bantams or those very small
ones, that obviously won't need the same amount
of space as one of your larger egg layers.
So use common sense and try to — and
understand that if they grow up bigger
than you were expecting, you might
need to be making some modifications.
Coops can be done in many different ways, and
there's no absolute best answer in my opinion.
There is a few things you absolutely need,
but there's a lot of ways to do that depending
on your situation or what you want it
to look like or how it needs to work.
I thought I had a layout.
Sorry about that.
Some of the best things, or
the most important things
that you need are a roost
for those chickens to sit on.
They enjoy sitting on roosts and it helps
keep them clean because a lot of times
when they defecate, they'll do it on roost.
And so that allows the droppings to fall away
from the chicken and helps keep them cleaner.
It's also a natural behavior
of chickens to roost on things.
Having egg layer boxes is good so that they can
be trained of where they need to put those eggs.
That's a problem with free range chickens.
Sometimes if they're not quite devoted to
their coop, you'll end up finding a nest
of 20 eggs somewhere under the shed
or an old trailer that you have
to then throw away and miss not having.
But you want a coop that will provide
plenty of natural or artificial light.
I would definitely suggest the natural over the
artificial just because there's so much dust
and commotion that can happen in a chicken pen
that when you put any source of electricity
in there, you're just increasing
your risk of a fire.
So if you can at all avoid having
a heat light or a regular light
in that coop, that's for the best.
I understand that's not always possible and if
it's not possible for you, do everything you can
to prevent the fire risk in your coop.
So natural light would mean windows or areas
where it's just screen that you might need
to cover up in the wintertime
when it gets colder.
Sanitary areas for their food and their water —
usually those are raised up a little bit
from the floor of the coop so the droppings
or dirty nesting material or straw
doesn't get into that food or water.
And then coops that are both predator and
rodent proof, a lot of times you'll need
to have a screen on the bottom of the coop, or
even the outdoor run if you can, so that mice
and rats can't tunnel up through there.
Nothing will attract rats to a farm like
having chicken feed or pig feed around.
So keep that in mind of what might be an
unexpected side effect of your chicken project.
And then meeting applicable building codes.
Anymore we're getting so many
more strict rules on what kind
of structures can be built on a property.
And so if it's something that's going
to be the Taj Mahal of chicken coops,
you probably want to check and make sure
that that's something you're going to be able
to build and keep in your yard or
on your property and it won't count
as an additional structure that
you weren't zoned for or coded for.
I guess I wanted to make sure
that you definitely saw that.
[Laughing] I apologize.
Earlier, this was the graphic
that I was looking for.
So this has, essentially, all the things
that you would need for your coop.
Once again, that heat lamp is extra optional.
It's only there if you really need it.
So it's got the nesting boxes, feeder,
water, ventilation that can be adjusted.
There's a door.
You want to make sure, too, that it is easy
for you to get into the coop if you need to.
If a bird dies in there, you don't want to be
having to tear off the side of your chicken coop
so that you can get it out or
to get in there and clean it.
So make sure that the door is, it's not
only chicken sized but also you sized.
But those are — that would be a
general layout for an indoor section.
And then oftentimes chicken coops
will open up to an outdoor run
or the door will come open
so they can be free ranged.
And however you want to do that is up to you.
So, feeding chickens.
Feeding chickens can almost even be fun just
because they eat so many different things.
They're extreme omnivores.
They'll even go as far as resorting to
cannibalism if we want to be very frank
about that, depending on how hungry they are.
But if they're free range chickens,
oftentimes they lay better tasting,
more vibrantly colored eggs
because their diet is —
they're able to control their diet on their own.
So they're eating bugs and plants and
grains and anything they can find.
I remember the years that we had
more chickens when I was a child.
We had very few toads and I
do think that was related.
And you can also give them table scraps.
Things like fruits and vegetables can
be a fun variety point in their diet.
But for chickens, especially those that
are not free range, it's very important
to feed them what they actually need.
And since when something is an
omnivore it's very hard for an owner
to provide everything they need without
including some type of commercialized feed —
and that's because they need, they just need a
broader spectrum of feed in their diet and types
of nutrients and proteins to keep them happy
and healthy, and vitamins and minerals.
And it's just a lot more difficult.
So I really — even if you want to give
them everything that makes them happy,
please include some sort of
chicken feed to make sure
that they're getting the nutrition they need.
So there's also what, of course, comes
with that is the laundry list of things
that you should not feed chickens.
And a lot of these are generalized.
So I start with eggshells not because
they're poisonous or bad for the chicken
but it does start the habit
of them eating their own eggs
which can be quite problematic for some owners.
So never give them eggshells or something that
resembles egg shells because it just trains them
to eat the reason you are keeping them probably.
So don't do that.
Junk foods, processed foods, candy,
sweet and salty foods, dry beans.
Cooked beans are OK.
They don't have the same expansion issues.
I don't know why raw potatoes — some of these I
don't know why you're not supposed to feed them
but they're on lists multiple times
by veterinarians, so just follow them.
But yeah, a lot of those odd items are
things that you shouldn't give them.
Rotten foods should be an obvious one.
They're not garbage disposals.
And then dry rice is one you definitely want to
avoid too just because of the swelling issue.
And if there's — if you have a
different type of food you're thinking
about giving your chickens, definitely feel
free to do your own research and figure
out if they should be getting a ton of
whatever food you want to give them.
But once again, back to that
actual chicken food.
It's just the best thing for your chicken.
And it might not be the most exciting
thing but it is ultimately the best thing
that we can provide that they're
not foraging for themselves.
So, and there's a chart on
the side of different ages
and the way their protein needs will change.
Generally when you go to the store to buy
chicken food, you can see they've got a starter,
a grower, a layer, and all these
different types of proteins.
And so you just look at what
age your chicken is at,
and generally there's a feed
that corresponds with that.
The two supplements that you can consider
giving your chickens would be oyster shell
and that's essentially a calcium support
for them producing all that eggshell
and expanding all of that calcium.
And then grit is a product that
generally chickens, if they are free range
or have access to open ground, will not need.
But since chickens' digestive systems work with
the gizzard, they need to eat kind of hard type,
little bits of hard pebbles or rocks that
help their gizzard churn and help digest
that food which is a whole other webinar.
We don't need to talk about chicken
digestion, but you might see grit
at the store and that's what it is.
It's a supplement.
It is definitely not a feed.
And remember that chickens
are much like children.
If you fill them up on sweets, they
probably won't want to eat their dinner.
So feed your treats in moderation and make sure
that that chicken food is the main component
of the diet that you're providing.
So I'm going to move.
Jen's going to take over from here for a little
while and talk about keeping chickens healthy.
Yeah, so Kara talked about the fun
part of chicken keeping [laughing] —
the coop design, you know, all
the benefits of having chickens
and the fun that it is to raise chickens.
So I'm just going to talk about
the maybe not so fun part of it
of like generally how we're
keeping our chickens healthy
and some common ailments
to keep our eyes out for.
But as Kara mentioned in general,
chickens are generally healthy and happy,
but you want to have some idea of what
you might want to look for just in case.
So keeping our chickens healthy — in general,
we want to keep wild birds away from the flock.
Or new birds, quarantine them before
you introduce them to the flock
and you can have an all-in/all-out policy where
all the birds are here and then they're gone.
The place is sanitized, aired out for
a bit, and then a new flock comes in.
And that's a pretty common
practice, as Kara mentioned.
If you're traveling from farm
to farm visiting other flocks,
make sure you're cleaning your
clothes, cleaning your shoes.
It's a good idea to maybe have a pair
of shoes and maybe even some clothes
that you're generally using within your flock
and you're not taking that out to other areas
that you might bring in diseases or germs.
So generally minimizing any environmental
stresses, so we want to protect from predators,
and Kara will talk about that next.
Keeping proper nutrition, cleaning our food
and water, and cleaning the cages regularly.
[Inaudible] So what does a
healthy chicken look like?
It's a good idea to keep that in mind.
First of all, you wouldn't necessarily want to
compare different breeds when you're looking
at chickens and their size
and their body weight.
The Sicilian Buttercup is a generally
thinner breed, so you wouldn't want
to compare that to a larger breed.
But in general, you want to just note that if
you see shiny feathers, bright eyes, waxy combs,
and the chickens are active,
then they're nice and healthy.
They're walking around, clucking, talking to
each other, their heads and necks are extended.
These are all generally good
signs that your flock is healthy.
If they're producing eggs, generally you
know, depending on the season and the age,
if they are producing eggs regularly then
you know everything is good in your flock.
So, however, there are some common poultry
ailments that you want to keep in mind
and understand that it is a possibility
that could happen to you and your flock.
So generally these ailments are
introduced through wild animals
or through other flocks of birds.
You could bring them in through
maybe equipment that have been used
on other flocks or in other farms.
Bringing it in with new birds and maybe even
people visiting the farm from other farms.
So you want to make sure that you know
that once a disease is within your flock,
it can potentially spread very rapidly
through feces, dander, and saliva.
And that's how these germs spread.
So I'm not really going to talk specifically
about all of these, just so that you're aware
that they are a potential problem.
So we have lice, mites, mycoplasmas,
a respiratory disease.
So you might see cold symptoms your birds.
Marek's disease is a viral disease
which can be vaccinated against.
Coccidiosis is a parasite
that damages the intestines.
And you can buy medicated feed
for the chicks to avoid that.
Salmonella can even be passed into humans.
So we'll talk specifically about that next.
And then finally the avian influenza, which
I'm sure you've all heard a lot about.
There have — up to date, there have been cases
reported in other states surrounding Colorado,
but as far as I know none in Colorado.
But it is a reportable disease and
is easily passed through wild birds.
But basically if you — no,
you're fine [laughing].
Basically if you know the smells,
the sounds, the sights of your flock,
you'll be able to notice right away if something
happens so that you can quarantine that bird.
So, salmonella — that happens
to spread to humans
from animals, as you probably all well know.
So as a general, really important rule
of thumb is don't kiss your chickens,
especially if your younger children
who have smaller or who are smaller
and are developing their immune systems still,
they are very much more susceptible
to getting salmonella.
So keeping kissing to a minimum
[laughing] — and snuggling.
And definitely washing your hands after
you're handling the birds or collecting eggs.
And that moves us on to egg safety.
So, for egg safety, of course we can spread
salmonella through the eggs or even E. coli.
So we want to keep the nesting material clean.
So we're cleaning things out regularly.
Try to collect the eggs one or two
times a day and discard any broken eggs.
If you want to clean the eggs,
you can brush off the dirt.
You can even use like a little gentle sandpaper.
If you feel like you want to wash
them with water, use a mild detergent
or even water mixed with some bleach.
But make sure you use warm water that's 20
degrees warmer than the eggs because otherwise
if it's colder water it will form a vacuum
and actually push any diseases
out to the outside of the shell.
And realize that we can store our eggs in a
refrigerator and it's not a bad idea to do,
but it's not going to kill salmonella.
It will just reduce it from
spreading any further.
Obviously, don't eat raw eggs
if this is a concern for you.
And then finally, if you're
using the manure to compost —
or on your garden, it's a good idea to
compost it first and to spread it in the fall
because that limits the option for manure
with salmonella or E. coli to spread
onto your spinach, for example, and then
have it, you know, fed to your family.
So in general, as I mentioned, poultry
diseases are spread very easily.
You can pick it up at the feed store.
You can bring it home on
your vehicle, on your shoes.
A new bird coming into the
flock can spread it that way.
And of course, equipment.
So just being aware of what you're doing
as you're working with your chickens.
That's basically a procedure that you want
to use to prevent the spread of diseases.
So it's a good idea to have a biosecurity plan
for your property, even if
you just have two birds.
It's a good idea to, you know, have a
general plan in place and stick to it.
And some of these best management practices are
protecting it from exposure, from wild birds,
of course; isolating new birds or sick
birds, quarantining them away from the flock;
using separate clothing when
you're working with your birds.
And specifically if you do have a sick bird,
make sure you work with that bird last.
Sometimes we think, oh, we want
to tend to the sick bird first.
But then you might be spreading that into the
general flock as you move through the system.
Cleaning your shoes, if you're
coming from flock to flock.
And then no playdates.
So not bringing your chickens
over to your friend's house
to have a little chicken playdate.
[ Laughter ]
Some more general prevention basics —
cleaning the cage and the feeders
and the waterers daily if possible.
I know that's a bit much, but you
know, the more you can clean it
and sanitize it, the better it is.
Like I said, avoiding contact with other birds.
Cleaning your equipment regularly
or at least not moving equipment
from one flock to the other.
Minimizing the number of people that are
actually having contact with your bird.
So it's one thing to have your
friends over and, you know,
having them just visually see your bird.
But if you have people actually
working with the birds in the coop,
you want to minimize the number and make
sure that they have clean shoes and clothing.
And of course, wash your hands,
wash your hands, wash your hands.
And this number at the bottom of the screen,
the Avian Health Hotline, is really important.
This might be a number that you'd want to keep
on your refrigerator or somewhere
easy to come by.
The Colorado Avian Health Program is through
the Colorado State University Vet Hospital.
And we realize that there's not that many
veterinarians that work with poultry.
And so this hotline was set up.
You can call it at any time and they'll
help you troubleshoot and figure
out what direction you should go based
on whatever problem you're
having with your chickens.
And they also do necropsies.
So if you have, especially if you have
a big flock die-off, it might be —
I think it would be important to
figure out what happened to your flock.
So you could do a necropsy.
Last time I checked it was $45 for them to
do that and find out what exactly happened.
You can report diseases with them.
The real big diseases like avian influenza
are the ones that they really want
to hear about and have documented.
They also run the National
Poultry Improvement Plan Program,
the NPIPP, if you've ever heard of that.
If you need to move your chickens across state
line, you'll need to have this certification.
So they also run that program as well.
So what do you do with dead birds?
We talked a bit about sick birds.
So now what about dead birds?
It's OK to bag their bodies and throw them away.
Some dumps will take the bodies.
You could look at local Humane Societies
or local vet hospitals if you want to try
and get rid of the bird that way.
I know the vet hospital on campus
will take dead bodies for a small fee.
And then what about unwanted chicks?
So birds, maybe old hens that aren't laying
anymore and you just want to get rid of?
There are a few options for that.
Of course, we wouldn't necessarily want to just
let them, you know, open the doors to the coop
and let them roam off into the sunset [laughs].
That's probably not the best idea.
We can butcher them, for sure.
Make sure you're doing that with someone who
is trained or having guidance from someone
who knows what they're doing for humane
reasons and for sanitation reasons.
But that's certainly an option.
Old hens make good stew meat.
[Light laughter] So what
other options do you have?
You could sell them at a bird
swap, maybe on Craigslist.
And then there also are a few local raptor
centers around Colorado that are always looking
for healthy birds to feed the raptors.
And then finally, chicken picking happens often.
And often we don't really
know what to do about it.
So there are a few solutions that we kind
of wanted to talk with you today about.
So pecking order — that's how this term
comes from, so chickens picking on each other.
And you'll notice that you have
one hen that's like the head
of the pecking order [laughter], maybe.
So the first thing that you might
want to check is are they too hot?
Are they too crowded?
Are they hungry or thirsty?
These are the first really easy
troubleshooters to look at.
If they're too crowded together, they're really
bored and they just start picking on each other.
Often, if you have free range birds they're
not really going to be picking at each other
as often as ones that are
stuck in a coop together.
You could try to remove a rooster.
You could try to add something, like a
novel item to the coop such as an old tire
or straw bale or something that's different,
maybe a different type of food like a watermelon
or something fun for them to eat for the
day, just to kind of keep them distracted.
So they might forget about, oh
yeah, I wanted to pick on that —
[laughter] — my least favorite chicken.
Oftentimes, if you have too much light, they
might just be too pumped up and distracted.
So maybe even just darkening
the coop could be an option.
I know that we tend to add
supplemental light for the birds
to continue to produce eggs in the winter.
And while that's beneficial, it might actually
be something that we wouldn't want to do
if we end up having some picking happening.
The picture on the bottom of
the screen is molly grease.
So this is grease that's equipment grease but
it could be an option if you do have a bird
that looks like they have a big
sore spot from so much picking.
You could add this grease onto that area.
It sticks pretty well to the skin.
It's not going to hurt them at all.
But it does taste bad, and so it will
hopefully deter chickens from pecking
at that same area just because
it tastes so gross.
So our chickens wouldn't look very
pretty with this grease on them.
However, it could be a really simple solution.
Removing that aggressive hen
could be an option but not always.
And then finally, as a very, very last
resort, you could debeak the chickens.
However, if you do this, certainly
do this with the help and guidance
from someone that knows what they're doing.
Alright. So the last section of this
presentation is just going to be dealing
with some of the predators that could be
munching on your chickens or what you might want
to think about protecting them from.
And I think this by and far is one of the
biggest issues that poultry owners run
into now is the unexpected cunning
and cleverness of the things
that are trying to eat their birds.
And there are so many creatures
that want eat a chicken.
When you really think about it, all of
these animals have been equipped to hunt.
And you essentially have birds
that don't run very fast,
have a fair amount of meat,
and can't fight back.
So they're a prime target for anything
that's looking for a quick meal.
So we're going to go through and
we're just going to talk about some
of the various predators that
could be munching on your chickens.
And some of the — I mean, I'm going to
talk some about the different identifiers
and what might make you think caused it.
But it's usually not a super definitive
answer and you'll see what I mean as we go.
So one of the most common issues
is dogs, coyotes, and foxes,
especially in this Front Range Area
when you come down out of the mountains.
We have a ton of them and as cities
and towns have moved out, the coyotes
and foxes have definitely calmed
themselves around the presence
of people and have gotten quite bold.
So a sign of these could be
injured or missing adult birds.
Birds that are killed and not eaten is a
common side effect of a fox having gotten
into your coop because it kind
of becomes a frenzy for them.
They originally broke in looking for
probably in their mind one bird maybe.
But they get in there and the raucous
of chickens as they start freaking
out causes the fox to kill
one and then jump to the next,
and kill that one and jump to the next.
And so when these, especially with a
fox, if that's what got into your coop,
you might have a ton of dead birds
or almost dead birds and then one
or two that were maybe eaten or carried away.
Packs of canines tend to get
that hunting pack mentality.
And now I'm looking at this.
I shouldn't have said kill for the
fun of it because that sounds dark.
But that's almost what it looks like sometimes.
They'll kill things they
don't even plan on eating.
And they'll generally attack at night.
If it's a coyote or a fox, I wouldn't —
usually you won't expect them to
attack in the middle of the day.
We have seen foxes carry away chickens
kind of at dusk or in early morning,
but it's usually not in the middle of the day.
And domestic dogs are less likely to do that.
So if it looks like a canine
attack but it was during the day,
you're more likely to have had a domestic dog.
But so many of these are
generally you're more likely.
And so it would be hard to pin
it on the neighbor's dog just
because they got attacked during the day.
And then foxes will eat eggs as well.
A lot of times animals won't, some
animals won't go for the eggs.
But if a fox knows to look for that or they've
been used to eating eggs from other bird nests
or something, that's something they can
go for too which could help identify it.
Bobcats — once again, they may
not be the middle of the night,
but they're the dusk and the dawn predators.
They're very messy.
They tend to grab a chicken — so
not the whole flock, just one —
and do their best to tear it apart.
And a good indicator that
it was a bobcat or a cat
of some sort would be teeth
marks on their bones.
The way they eat and the sharpness and hardness
of their teeth tends to leave scratch marks,
where a lot of other animals are more
focused on ripping than biting from the bone.
And they tend to only eat the meaty portion.
So it might just be the breast meat
that's missing and the rest of it's there,
whereas some other predators
definitely go for the intestines.
Raccoons are ornery little critters and
depending on where you live they may be more
or less common than your foxes
or your coyotes as a risk.
They tend to do a lot more chewing on the whole
bird, so the breast, the crop, the entrails.
They like the whole buffet
of options in your chicken.
And they will usually — a lot of times
they will take them to a nearby location.
So you might find a chicken
30 yards away from your coop,
maybe not even on your property anymore,
depending on the size of your yard if you live
in town, where that raccoon felt he
was safe to have his chicken picnic.
And one thing you can do to kind of deter
raccoons is to not keep your garbage cans
or your food or your trash anywhere near
your chicken coop because that's usually,
they've kind of been trained to go
for that sort of thing now in towns.
They know that garbage cans that
smell ripe are usually a free meal.
So if you do keep garbage cans out, definitely
try to keep them as far away from your coop
as possible just so the raccoon doesn't
see an easy access while he's grazing
through your trash.
Weasels are less common overall
but depending on where you live,
they could definitely be an issue for you.
And the hard thing with weasels is
they fit through very small holes.
Kind of, if they can get their head through it,
they can get the rest of their body through it.
So if you live in an area where you know
weasels are prevalent, you're going to want
to be looking into even smaller
wiring on your cage
or your coop walls just because
And then I have not seen a chicken attacked
by a weasel, but my research told me
that they are often — they can
kill animals by biting the chicken
at the base of the skull, which makes sense.
Since they're so much smaller,
they would need to go for something
that was a little more critical
than just grabbing it
by the body like a larger dog may do.
Skunks, they tend to leave injured
birds behind and they love eggs.
So usually if you have eggs in the
pen and if the eggs are always gone,
you've got a better chance
of having a skunk attack.
And birds of prey.
These are another daytime predator that
you need to worry a little bit more about.
And hawks, sometimes they can take a little
bit of the fun out of having backyard chickens
or free range chickens because as soon as you
see a hawk sitting on a nearby people gazing
down at your chickens, you're
no longer happy and content
to watch them graze your backyard freely.
You're wondering about how you can
put a roof over them or screen a cage
on top of them to help keep them safe.
So but if you find — a feather pile
is a good sign that it was a hawk.
They tend to do quite a bit
of picking and pulling
as they're preparing their
snatched chicken feast.
And also if you have, in reverse, if
you're seeing this happen at night,
if you're finding feather piles
or disappeared chickens at night,
that could be a sign of an
owl rather than a hawk.
And a lot of predator issues can be prevented
by putting your chickens away at night.
I'm sure you saw a trend,
or I hope I made it clear,
that most predators will
attack chickens at night.
So if you can get them trained to go
into the coop and then you shut that door
on them every night, you've
increased their chances of survival
to a ripe old chicken age by quite a bit.
So, in closing, we just wanted to talk
about some other resources real quick
on our website at sam.extension.colostate.edu.
We have quite a few poultry
resources there for you.
That's a screenshot on the side of the
screen there for you to see what we have.
And we also wanted to make sure we touched on
another webinar that was done by Eric Mcphale.
He is an agent out of Gunnison.
He talks about considerations for raising
chickens, especially in the mountains.
Since he's at such a high elevation,
he has a really great insight into some
of the specific issues they face there.
And that's also on that resources
tab if you go to our website next
to the page that's opened up there.
So unless you have anything else you
want to touch on, we can start questions,
which I think there might be a few.
Oh, not that many.
>> It looks like you have some
questions under the Q&A section.
>> Great. So like I said,
I had seven chickens killed
over the next five months,
so I'm building a new coop.
But surprised that none of the seven have been
taken out, rather were killed and left on site.
Most had had her neck eaten.
A couple also had breast skin
torn open but breasts not eaten.
So being killed rather than eaten.
Hawks got two of them but not
sure what killed the others.
Do you have an idea?
[ Laughter ]
You know, you gave a lot of detail and
I wish I was a better chicken detective.
I would have to guess, just based
on the information you gave,
that it was probably something like a fox.
Like I mentioned earlier, they tend to get
in there and then as commotion gets raised,
they kind of get excited and
go around and kill everything.
And then they might only drag
off one to decide to eat.
Or maybe after all that excitement, they
realized they're not even that hungry anymore.
And that's a really hard thing to come
out and see was that you lost everything
and you can't even say that
you fed the wildlife.
So in that case, I — as
far as building new coops,
all I could suggest is hopefully
they've got a safe place to be at night,
since it sounds like the type of thing that
attacked and probably was attacking at night.
So if you can keep them a
little bit more protected.
And then like I said with the hawks,
that's a frustrating thing if you want
to have free range chickens because you
can't expect to put a screen fence roof
over an entire acre if that's the
size of area that they roam around on.
So that's frustrating.
And I think that's why we see so many
people who have a property but choose
to keep their chickens in almost like a large,
high-fenced dog kennel type dog run type area —
was because they just had seen the
hawks get their chickens too many times.
>> And the chicken tractors are
also another idea if you want to —
>> — be moving your chickens
around your pasture, your landscape.
You know, I'm sure you've seen the big tractors.
You can actually make them whatever size you
want, maybe put them on wheels so they're easy
to move around and easily, you know,
move them around your property that way
but still have them protected
from hawk predators and owls.
>> That's a good one.
So in terms of supplementary food,
I have seen cracked corn, scrabble,
mixed grain, etc. Any recommendations?
I think variety in a chicken's diet
is fun and it makes them happier
and the more variety they
have in vitamins and minerals,
the more vibrant those yolks tend to be.
So as far as recommendations, I don't know if I
would pick any of them as being better or worse.
Just so long as it is the supplement instead
of the main food is the biggest thing.
I know we used to give our
chickens something called sweet mix.
I don't even know if they still sell that,
but it was like this molasses
kind of somewhat coated grain.
And they really loved that but it was a treat.
It wasn't something that they got all the time.
So experiment and see what your chickens
like to eat more or what they, what helps,
maybe what helps them lay better eggs.
Maybe you see a more vibrant
tasting and good tasting yolk
when you feed the cracked
corn versus the others.
So, I'm excited to see you have
so many choices to choose from.
[Laughing] And then, have a hood that
is brooding, won't stop laying on eggs,
and won't let other hens in the nesting box.
How to deal with this?
Broody hens are [laughing]
— can be kind of an issue.
You know, I don't know.
I wish I knew.
Do you have an idea?
>> I mean, I've heard things about,
you know, separating them and, like,
putting fans under them or something.
>> I forget exactly what it was.
It seemed kind of, I don't know, a lot to me.
I think if you just sort of let it go,
they will eventually stop being so broody.
Right? But I know — yeah,
that's an issue if they're kind
of keeping other [laughter]
chickens from laying.
Maybe making more available nesting areas where
they would be comfortable laying their eggs.
>> I was going to say —
this is an educated guess.
I wouldn't say this is backed by research.
But you might want to try
taking that specific —
if she's always going to the same box to
be broody in, you might want to try, like,
maybe boarding up that box so
that she can't go to that spot.
Chickens are — I love them, but they're not
always very smart and sometimes being creatures
of habit, they just, they
get it into their brain
and sometimes shuffling up
their routine can help.
And then, it — broodiness.
I mean, any type of breed of chicken
can be broody, but there are some
that are definitely more prone to it.
Those little silky chickens — there's
a picture of them in that breed slide.
They're the broodiest things I've ever seen.
We gave one a goose egg and it was a
Bantam Silky so it was almost bigger.
You know, the egg was about
the same size as the chicken
and she hatched it just because
that's in her head.
That's what they want to do.
So if you're having the same issue with
the same hen and it's a different breed
than the other ones you have, it might be
an inherent problem just with that chicken.
So I wish I had a better answer for you.
>> OK. Well, it looks like we don't
have any more questions so — alright.
Well thanks, everyone, for joining us.
And please feel free to contact us directly,
too, if you have specific questions.
Have a great day.