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Lou's Tips

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One of the hazards of winter flock keeping in my neck of the woods is the risk of falling on slippery ice. This year, the ice has been especially bad so I have taken extra measures to safeguard my health. I have used wood shavings removed from the pens to cover the ice and provide traction. I usually pile it up or add it directly to gardens right over the snow.


It is important to know what disease one is dealing with when flock members become ill. Poultry supply vendors can be a resource but one should not hesitate to get expert help for serious outbreaks. Many states have Diagnostic Labs associated with major universities. It may be necessary to send them a bird lost to the problem but the cost of knowing what the problem is and how to treat it is worth paying.


Right now, the eastern half of the U.S. is dealing with a protracted spell of severe cold weather. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of providing a continuous supply of clean, unfrozen drinking water for all types of poultry. Water consumption is tied to feed consumption. There will be losses if that problem is not attended to.


An excellent type of penning for bantam waterfowl is a raised cage. I make mine 4X8 ft. in size divided in two lengthwise. The bottom is hardware cloth except at the end where the covered nestbox is located.

They are great in the spring for breeding units and also in the fall to condition birds


One does not want to wait until an emergency arises before locating needed medications. I like to have a broad spectrum antibiotic on hand at all times. I also keep Laryngo vaccine and a wound dressing ointment handy just in case.


Common symptoms of a disease to watch for in both landfowl and waterfowl include loss of weight, poor feather condition, and diarrhea. Behavioral changes such as loss of appetite or inactivity are also important signs of ill health.  


Both landfowl and waterfowl have metabolisms much faster than do mammals. Because of that, an illness or disease can cause them to fail in health much more quickly. If the keeper does not check his/her birds closely for telltale signs of illness, a bird can be too sick to benefit from treatment when the problem is discovered.  


I am sometimes asked if one can keep multiple pairs of Mandarins together without them changing mates.

I find that once pairs are well bonded, they stick with their mates longterm. Of course, that often means keeping them separately until their bond forms.


Keep in mind that feed consumption is closely tied to water consumption. Because this time of year in most parts of the country birds need to consume more calories to break even with the cold, a supply of clean, unfrozen water is vital for their health.


My own experience suggests that leaving Mandarin breeding stock full winged makes them slightly more likely to select a nest box and to breed than if they pinioned or wing clipped. I suppose that it seems more natural that they are able to fly up to a higher (and more secure?) nest box.


Perhaps the most efficient type of waterer for chickens is the nipple type. They come in several capacities up to over three gallons and even are available with built-in heaters. There is little spillage which keeps the litter dry and chickens seem to take to using it very quickly. The water also remains unspoiled by droppings.


As this is the time of the year that many people buy breeding stock, I thought a tip in that area would be timely.

When purchasing breeding stock for a new foundation flock, always purchase at least two pairs if at all possible. Invariably, one will lose or find infertile the single bird purchased.


Sometimes we tend to take the good things in our lives for granted. Take those who put on and manage our poultry shows for instance. They work hard, sometimes even taking some vacation time to get ready for a show. Often, they are very short of help. Usually, they only hear from those who have a complaint, not a compliment.

Next time you attend a show, stop by the Secretary's desk and offer some thanks.


Attention to detail can result in dividends at shows. For example, extra care in cleaning feet and legs, shaping of crests in crested breeds, trimming of beaks in chickens, ect. Sometimes, attention to such details will determine how far a bird will go once it wins it's class or even if it will win it's class.


Frosts are beginning to occur in the midwest which usually signals the end of the current West Nile Virus season since it kills the mosquitoes which carry the virus.


If you are losing birds this time of year and suspect West Nile Virus, try allowing them in the pasture only during the day and protecting them inside a building or in screened penning at night. My bantam ducks do not hesitate to hunt and eat mosquitoes during the day but are vulnerable at night while sleeping.


Ordinarily, I do not recommend washing waterfowl prior to a show, but sometimes it must be done. If one must wash a duck or goose, use a very mild soap and wash the birds 3-5 days before the show is to begin. That should allow the bird to begin to preen and to replace the oils lost due to washing.


West Nile Virus has spread all over North America except for those areas with desert climates. It affects Mallard derivative duck breeds which seem to be the most vulnerable. Young birds are most likely to be affected. Chickens do not show any symptoms. Hundreds of species of birds and animals can and do contract West Nile Virus.


Are you losing bantam ducks this time of year? Do you believe that the cause is West Nile Virus? Consider screening you rearing pens for them. Even if they are out on pasture during the day, mosquitoes are generally not as active then and you can reduce mortality if they are protected from them overnight. More on West Nile next week.


With the fall show season coming up fast, it is time to begin fitting your potential show birds. Begin identifying them well before entries are due. Go over the birds and remove damaged feathers 6-8 weeks before they are to be shown. More next week.


For either growing ducklings or goslings, do not provide more swimming water than they can handle. Until their wings are fully in, young waterfowl can have trouble getting out of artificial pools with steep sides. They can easily drown in such pools. Be sure that their feet can easily touch the bottom.


At this time of year when both waterfowl and landfowl are molting, every effort should be made to provide optimum nutrition. Ideally, that would include access to pasture. Molting stresses birds as greatly as any other situation and nutritional support will be repaid at the shows during the fall.


I am asked occasionally "do waterfowl ever come down with Coccidiosis?"  The answer is yes, they do but much more rarely than do other forms of poultry. As a precaution, I use medicated "Start & Grow" feed for about the first two months of life for my bantam ducklings. The active ingredient in the medication is Amprolium and it will not harm the ducklings.


Of all the breeds of bantam ducks I have used for broodies, I have found Mallards and East Indies to be the most reliable. While large breeds may be reliable as setters and can certainly cover more eggs, they may be too heavy and can crush bantam duck eggs.


I am often asked which of the many varieties of Calls make the best sitters. In my experience, Pastels, Blue Fawns, and white bibbed Blues make good sitters as a whole. Grays not quite as reliable. Whites seem to think that the incubation period is 2 1/2- 3 weeks.

Of course, individual birds in any color may be very good to terrible.