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Both chickens and most ducks are omnivorous in that they include both animal and plant based protein in their diets. Birds not on range should have access to animal protein either in their feed or as a supplement.


In commercially made metal box brooders, three plastic troughs are generally provided to be hung on the outside. Two of the troughs are to be used for water and one for feed. That is even more important as the young birds grow because the consumption of water compared to feed is 2 to 1 as a ratio. 


In areas which have experienced a cold winter, it is common to feed birds some corn to keep them from losing too much weight in extreme cold. Once birds begin to breed, however, discontinue the grain and feed a quality breeding ration exclusively. Otherwise, males may be too heavy to mate effectively.


If you have not already done so, begin to provide your breeding birds with oyster shell now. By doing so before they begin laying, you will ensure that even the first few eggs will be properly shelled.


If you have not treated your birds for mites and lice over the winter, be sure to do so now as an infestation can affect fertility and overall health. Male chickens are especially vulnerable to mites.


The best way to stop feather picking is to find the picker and remove it. I usually move the culprit and place it with a group of somewhat older chicks. They will straighten him out quickly if he tries to pick feathers. I also treat feather picking victims with a wound dressing containing iodine which helps heal any wound and which evidently tastes really bad. Allowed to continue, feather picking can cause death in some chicks.


Feather picking in growing chicks can become a real problem if it is not addressed in the early stages. Feather picking can be caused by overcrowding, too much brooder heat, or even just boredom. It is often just one/two chicks doing the picking. More on this topic next week.


Never breed from weaklings no matter how good their other qualities are. That principle is true in all types of poultry but is even more essential in bantam fowl.


Always use distilled water in your incubators. Otherwise, you will deal with hard water and mineral deposits


It is important to keep in mind that during incubation,  the larger an egg is, the less humidity is ideal for it. I find that bantam chickens and Standard chickens even of the same breed and variety have different needs in terms of humidity.  What is perfect for the bantams is too much humidity for the Standards. The results of too much incubator humidity are bloated chicks which often cannot move enough in the shell to hatch properly.


Any time that new birds are introduced to a flock, there is some risk of introducing disease and or parasites. If one obtains the new birds at a "swap" that risk is substantially increased in my opinion.

If at all possible, "quarantine" new birds away from the flock for two weeks while treating the newcomers for parasites.


Remember that a freshly laid egg will freeze in as little as 20 minutes in extremely cold weather. An egg does not have to show a crack from the cold to be ruined.


Never set hatching eggs laid in cold weather until they reach room temperature. Some hatcheries never set freshly laid eggs for 12 hours regardless of temps.


Contrary to what  one might think, not all chicks and baby waterfowl begin to drink on their own when in a brooder situation. A very wise practice is to dip each chick, dukling or gosling's bill or beak into the waterer within a few hours of being placed in the brooder. Normally, that jump starts their instinct to drink and they can take it from there.


Overcrowding can be a serious problem at any stage of a chick or duckling's life but it is especially critcal during the first 1-2 months. Smaller youngsters tend to be bullied away from food and water and may even be attacked by larger birds. Disease also spreads much mor quickly when brooders are overcrowded.


The three most common causes of losses among chicks or ducklings in their first month of life are overcrowding, dehydration, and damp conditions in the brooder. We will go into detail about each in the next few weeks.


Be aware that if oyster shell is not provided when birds are laying, that the females will draw vital nutrients from their own bodies. do not depend on calcium provided in layer or breeder feed.


Chain link "kennel panels" make excellent poultry pens. They come in 6' thru 10' lengths and are commonly available in this area at least in 6' height. I even use the panels to cover the tops. Line at least the bottom 24 inches with sturdy 1/2 inch hardware cloth to prevent raccoons from reaching through and grabbing birds.


It is important that after returning from a show that you treat every bird which attended the show for mites. Once mites infest a bird, they can reach a level which is life threatening to the bird in 3-4 weeks if not treated.


Some people think that only white chickens need to be washed prior to being shown. In fact, only the hard feathered games will not benefit from a washing. Sometimes, such attention to detail makes the difference between winning and losing at the show.


Try never to go into  a breeding program in a new breed or variety with less than two males and two females. Having at least two of each sex available may spare you the loss of an entire breeding season in case the unforseen happens.


Believe it or not, mites prefer male chickens as their hosts. If you want to see if your mite treatment is still effective, check your male breeding stock.


It is important to understand that different breeds of chickens will have different optimim diets, growth rates, space needs, and hardiness levels. It is vital that prior to taking on a new breed, that one knows as much about their needs and requirements as possible.


Chickens in particular need to be sprayed or otherwise treated for lice and mites regularly. Some types which penetrate the bird's skin need be applied every six to eight weeks. Contact insecticides need to be applied at least every four weeks.


Because female chickens in particular are in prime condition for a relatively short amount of time, it is wise to hatch at least a couplel of groups about a month apart if one is showing for the entire fall/winter show season.