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Lou's Tips

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Eggs which are dirty are sometimes more harmful than one would think. Washing eggs may remove the dirt but might make the egg more suspectable to bacteria. the protective coating is washed off easily. Best to remove dirt with very fine sandpaper.


Eggshell quality is an important consideration when choosing eggs to set. Thin or poor quality shells are inheritable so they should be avoided. The same thing goes for eggs which are misshapen. They often hatch poorly and the tendency can be passed on by chicks resulting from that type of egg.  


As this is the time of year that many people order shipped chicks and ducklings, I thought it important to mention that once they arrive, the youngsters should be given water with caution. Room temperature water should be supplied and bantam ducklings, in particular, should not be allowed to consume unlimited quantities. Let them drink for short periods and then take it away. Overconsumption of water can be fatal in very young ducklings.


There seems to be some confusion and inaccurate info circulating about the genetics behind White Mandarins. If a White female is mated to a White male, 100% of the offspring should be White. A normal colored male must carry the White gene and be mated to a White female to produce some White offspring. Such males are called "splits". 


Having another person to look over one's matings can be extremely helpful. A "fresh set of eyes" can spot defects or even qualities that the owner did not see. That is one valuable aspect of attending shows, especially if one does not live in an area where such "second opinions" are easy to arrange. A person who will give an honest assessment rather than empty compliments is the most helpful.


I have observed that even in the same species, humidity requirements for hatching eggs will differ somewhat depending upon the size of the individual eggs. Smaller eggs release less of their internal moisture content so they require lower humidity for optimal hatches than do larger eggs. I have found, for example, that pullet eggs in my bantam chickens will not hatch as well when humidity requirements are set for the larger eggs. The smaller eggs tend to result in sticky and slowly hatching chicks.


While some incubators with auto turning features turn eggs as frequently as once per hour, when hand turning eggs no significant improvement in hatchability results when eggs are turned more than 3-4 times per day.


There are at least three ways to manage matings of both chickens and ducks. One can keep matings intact for the entire breeding season, rotate males on a weekly basis, or change out the males at about the halfway point of the season. If the matings are small (no more than three females), I usually leave the breeding units intact unless there is a fertility problem. For larger matings, it may be best to rotate males for best fertility.


When I mentioned in last week's tips that waterfowl take longer to hatch, that is true in two respects. The normal incubation period for most ducks is 28 days rather than 21 days for chickens. Some geese can take a couple of days longer to hatch and Muscovys can take as much as 32 days.

Also, waterfowl may take longer to complete the hatching process than upland fowl.


A significant difference in the incubator management of waterfowl eggs is that they need more humidity than chicken eggs and they take much longer to hatch. Depending on egg size, waterfowl eggs can need from 5-10 % for humidity during incubation.


There are some significant differences in the handling of hatching eggs for chickens and waterfowl. It is fine to incubate chicken eggs in an incubator in which the eggs are positioned large end up. Waterfowl eggs are best incubated on their sides and turned ninety degrees. I prefer to do so by hand. More on the differences in incubation practices next time.


Most breeders know that increasing the length of light during the winter can increase the rate of egg production in poultry. what you may not know is that just turning on the lights to a 24-hour cycle can actually reduce egg production. Use timers and increase light gradually for best results.


As we approach March 1st, waterfowl breeders should begin to put together duck breeding units if the birds have been housed together during the winter. I try to allow at least two weeks before setting hatching eggs once the breeding groups have been isolated.


When the temps drop, it is important to gather hatching eggs as frequently as possible. An egg will freeze to the point of embryo death within 1/2 hour in sub-zero temperatures.  


The use of heat lamps to help poultry in frigid weather can have unintended consequences. Poultry are very light sensitive and even the use of infrared bulbs can trigger laying when the keeper does not want egg production to begin. Likewise, even one small wattage bulb in a building can trigger egg production.


I occasionally hear from people concerned about toxic plants in their poultry pastures. That can be a rather complicated subject to cover.

I recommend contacting the local Extension Office for info on local toxic plants since they can vary by region. Also be aware that only parts of some plants are toxic and in some cases, only toxic during specific periods of the growing season.


When attempting to produce young during the winter, it is important to take into consideration the need for supplementary light for both males and females. Ideally, males should be put under supplementary light for about two weeks prior to the introduction of females. 


I define "failure to thrive" as a condition where a bird never comes into good condition and/or never achieves an appropriate weight.  Such birds are often a waste of resources and end up dying in spite of extraordinary care. Such birds come up in all types of fowl and often exhibit good qualities which prompts the breeder to bestow care better used elsewhere.


One last thing about treating for mites. When treating a large group of birds together in one pen/house, consider doing so at night after the birds have gone to roost. It will be much quicker and one is less likely to miss birds.


Regarding the treatment of mites, products containing Ivomectin work best for me. It takes much less product to protect a bird and the results last a few months instead of a few weeks. The brand I use is Frontline but any brand containing Ivomectin should produce similar results.


This time of year in particular, it is prudent to watch for and treat mite infestations in your chickens. If you notice that a bird seems to be pale and listless, it is often a sign of mite problems. 


Normally, I do not recommend that any type of poultry be allowed to become overweight for a variety of reasons. With Calls, however, I make an exception due to their relatively small body size. Being several ounces over their usual weight will allow them to combat the extreme cold experienced in many parts of the country.


Last week I suggested that the opportunity for regular bathing is really beneficial to waterfowl, especially in the winter.

Given regular below freezing temps in many parts of the country, unfrozen water may take some equipment such as a stock tank heater submerged in a molded plastic pool but it will be worth the effort.


One of the most beneficial things one can do for waterfowl during the winter is to provide them with the opportunity to swim if not all the time at least on a regular basis.

doing so will keep them clean, encourage them to preen and oil their plumage, and may help keep eye infections to a minimum.


For outside pens (in shelters) I recommend either clean straw or pine shavings for bedding. Do not use hay since it lacks absorbency and can contain mold spores. In either case, one can add layers as needed until cleanout in spring.