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Winter feed consumption in all forms of poultry is closely tied to the availability of unfrozen water. Birds can go downhill rapidly in terms of condition and overall health if they do not have access to water for good portions of the day.
With cold gripping much of the U.S., keep in mind that freshly layed eggs pull in the surrounding air as they cool. In zero temps, eggs can be cold damaged in as little as 20 minutes. Check for eggs in cold weather as often as practical.
With the hatching season still weeks or months off, now is the time to service your incubator(s).
Replace wafers, oil the motor, and sanitize the interior of the machine.
A solid state thermostat is far superior to the wafer system: consider changing to one.
With the cold weather coming on in many parts of the country, it is time to adjust the feed for poultry accordingly. The trick is to provide enough fat content to allow the birds to maintain their weight during extemely cold times without allowing them to put on too much weight
Using extra corn in the diet will provide the needed fat content but it should be used carefully.
It is a very well spent few moments to periodically check the security of fences and pens. Check for rotting wood, rusty wire, etc. Underestimating the local predators can be very costly.
There is no more foolhardy way to save a few bucks than to skimp on the quality of feed one supplies to either waterfowl or chickens. Cheap feed will invariably produce inferior results.
In my experience, selecting "target faults" to correct in young fowl is only effective when one zeroes in on 1 or 2. If you select several, chances are you will not be truly successful in correcting any of them. Prioritize your target faults and attempt to select against them over a series of years.
Most of us have limited time to spend with our birds. It makes sense, then, to do at least double duty whenever we handle our birds. For example, I always treat birds for lice/mites whenever I handle them wheather I am evaluating show birds, banding them, putting together breeding pens, etc.
This is the time of the year when young chickens in particular may show symptoms of Larygotracheitis. It is a respiratory disease which may spread quickly and cause the loss of many birds in a short span of time. Laryngo can be treated effectively in it's early stages by use of a vaccine. Even if one does not want to vaccinate for Larygo every year, a supply of vaccine is best to have on hand just in case.
Given that young chickens can have coccidiosis triggered by abrupt changes in temperature, especially drops in temperature, consider running a brooder light over them when temps are likely to drop over night.
One of the leading causes of loss among growing chickens is coccidiosis which is often triggered by abrupt changes in temperature. Young chickens should be kept on medicated feed and it maybe good practice to give them supplementary Amprolium in their water. Be sure to follow label directions.
Remember when your birds moult that their diet should be rich in protein. About eighty seven percent of a feather is made up of protein.
Botulism is a deadly bacterial disease that can paralyize either upland fowl or waterfowl and can prove fatal. Most people think it can only come from rotting flesh and maggots but rotting vegetation can also cause Botulism. Do not allow either dead birds or decaying vegetation to remain within reach or the birds.
Keeping young waterfowl on high protein starter/grower too long may well contribute to wing problems such as slipped or "angel" wing.
Remember that young waterfowl should go from start/grow feed to a duck grower of 16/18% by 7-8 weeks. If they can be provided time on grass in good weather, so much the better.
Two important things to keep an eye on when growing out chicks or young waterfowl: brooder space and temperature. The temperature should be brought down steadily each week. Floor space per young bird may be even more important. Hatchlings grow at an amazing rate and will quickly outgrow their brooders.
Another trait which tends to be passed on from one generation of birds to the next is timidity. An overly timid bird will often show very poorly. Take that into consideration when choosing your breeders.
The temperment of birds tends to be inherited. That means if you use a mean bird as a breeder, you are likely to pass that trait on to offspring.
When setting hatching eggs, it is best not to set eggs which are mis-shaped or which have thin shells. Such traits tend to be hereditary.
It is extremely beneficial for all types of young poultry to get out in the sunshine on pasture as soon as they are fully feathered when temperatures permit, They must have access to shelter, however, in the event of an unexpected thunderstorm. If they are in the company of their parents, they will be more protected.
It is tempting when chicks, ducklings, or goslings are hatching well to continue to hatch as many as possible. That plan can backfire if one hatches more than one can accommodate in rearing facilities. Overcrowding leads to greater losses, more easily spread disease, etc.
Eggs do not need to be turned as frequently as most people believe. Two turnings per day of 90 degrees works well with both chicken and waterfowl eggs. Turning the eggs more often will not hurt them but it will not improve hatches.
Eggs should not be turned at all for the last 3-4 days before they are due to hatch. Doing so may interupt the chick's ability to position itself for the hatch.
When opening an incubator to turn eggs, etc., do not open it with the fan on as doing so will maximize the loss of heat and humidity. Turn the machine off, then open it. Also, remember that when a hatch is in progress, do not open the incubator any more than necessary to avoid robbing the hatchlings of the humidity they need to complete the hatch.
Do you find it necessary to "help" your chicks, ducklings, or goslings to hatch? Instead of doing so, you should be searching for the reason they need help. The more you assist the hatching process, the more you are insuring that you will need to keep doing so. Humidity or some other factor is likely the problem. Another possibility is genetic weakness in the breeding stock. By doing for the youngsters what they should be able to do for themselves, you promote the likelihood that more and more hatchlings will be unable to hatch by themselves.
When hatching eggs are gathered in cold weather, let them warm to room temperature before putting them into the incubator. The big difference between egg temperature and the heat of the incubator can cause damage to the embryo. Of course, it is always prudent to gather hatching eggs as often as practical in very cold weather.