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Lou's Tips

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Probably the most common mistake that novice poultry keepers make is underestimating the local predators. I am convinced that predator losses are more substantial than all other causes of loss combined. Do not lose your investment in your breeding stock because you under-invest in your pens and housing.


A very contagious strain of Avian Flu has broken out in commercial flocks of turkeys and laying hens in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. It is believed to be spread by wild birds. Keeping wild birds from coming in contact with your poultry and practicing good, common sense bio-security may prevent further spread of the disease.


If you plan to purchase breeding stock, this is the best time to contact the seller to reserve birds.  Most sellers of the high quality stock have more requests than they can fill, at least for the better birds. Offer to send a deposit even if the seller doe not require one because it shows that you are serious and will follow through. Most birds are delivered/shipped in the fall.


Rodent control in areas where poultry is kept is vital for several reasons. Rodents spread disease, eat large quantities of feed, and in urban areas is often an excuse cited for banning the keeping of poultry. Warfarin based products are not effective in my experience.

I have found that rodent baits containing Diphasinone are quite effective. Be careful with it around other animals, however.


Providing green feed in some form is extremely beneficial to all poultry, especially if they do not have access to pasture. Fresh grass clippings (not treated with herbicides or pesticides) and weeds from the garden can really boost their health even if one can only provide it once or twice a week. Of little value is "Iceberg" lettuce which is pretty much devoid of nutrition.


I regularly supply animal protein to all of my poultry in the form of meal worms. I used to purchase live meal worms at a local pet shop but now I purchase freeze dried meal worms in bulk. It is much less expensive and they will keep indefinetly if stored in dry conditions. They can also be rehydrated by soaking in water but I feed them as is.


While the egg turning equipment on many incubators works fine for chicken eggs, I do not recommend that it be used for waterfowl eggs. I turn my waterfowl eggs 90 degrees twice per day and the eggs rest on their sides in the incubator.


Of the three ways to obtain stock in either waterfowl or other poultry, the purchase of hatching eggs is the least expensive but most risky. Shipped hatching eggs in particular are frequently disappointing since eggs which are dropped or treated roughly in transit will  often candle as infertiles even if they were fertile. An egg does not have to crack to be fatally damaged.


One of the worst case scenarios during hatching season is to have an incubator fail without having a backup machine or replacement parts available. Such a situation can ruin a hatching season because it can take a week or more to secure parts or another machine.


Be sure that your breeding birds go into the breeding season in good flesh but not over fat. Begin feeding breeder rations a few weeks before the first eggs are expected.



The principal causes for feather picking in growing chickens are overcrowding and boredom. Chickens on range are seldom bothered with the problem.


There can be too much of a good thing. Assuming that that more is better often leads poultry raisers to supplement vitamin/mineral packages  in the feed with water soluable products. That is fine as long as package directions are followed. Over supply of some vitamins can result in a toxic reaction in poultry which could involve kidney failure and other organ damage.


Some of your birds lay "weird shaped" eggs? It is probably best to avoid breeding from them since mis-shapen eggs tend to be a hereditary trait. That is true for both chickens and waterfowl.


Those championships at shows that we all want to win are not won in the fall; they are won this time of year when one takes excellent care of the breeding stock and attends to the details with that incubator and those brooders.


In very cold weather, collect hatching eggs as often as you can. After an egg is layed, it pulls in surrounding air as it cools. In zero weather, an egg can chill to the point of killing the embryo within 1/2 hour or even less.  An egg does not have to crack before fatal damage is done. Deep bedding in nests will help insulate an egg. 


Never put soiled eggs into the incubator. Likewise, do not incubate eggs with thin shells. Soiled eggs introduce bacteria into the incubator and thin shelled eggs may introduce that trait into offspring that hatch from such eggs.


Fertility a problem? Possible causes would include nutritional deficiency, age of breeders (too young or too old), parasites, or an un-noticed foot/ leg injury in the male bird.


Two valuable sources of vitamins vital to fertility and hatchability are Wheat Germ Oil and Cod Liver Oil.


When providing calcium for egg production, it is better to supply it free choice rather than to rely on what is in the feed. Doing so allows for some birds which need more to obtain it.  Crushed oyster shell is normally used to supply clacium to poultry.


Concerned about fertility? Try adding Wheat Germ Oil to your bird's diet a couple of times a week. It comes in soft gel form which is popped into the bird's (especially the male's) mouths. It also can be obtained in liquid form which can be fed by coating whole corn with the Wheat Germ oil. It may take two to three weeks to begin to help so start before you need those fertile eggs.


If your birds are not on free range, they will need supplementary grit to aid in digesting their feed. By the way, I have found that the small granite grit is a big help in eliminating slippery situations during the winter in the bird areas where one does not want to use salt or other chemicals.


Do not wait until the last minute to put matings together in either waterfowl or chickens. Best fertility will be obtained when the birds are comfortable with each other. That is especially important in geese and Mandarins.


Now is the time to complete winterizing your outside pens for waterfowl.

Heavy mill plastic covering at least the west and north sides of the pen is a good start. Add a submiseable stock tank heater to their drinking/bathing water will greatly simplify caring for them. Deep straw or pine shavings in their shelter will help the birds handle even severe cold.


There are two very good reasons to wash chickens. Of course one should wash birds one plans to show. One should also wash birds one plans to offer for sale. Trust me; they will sell more quickly and for more money if they look their best.  See my article on fitting birds for shows for specifics.


Both ducks and geese need to be able to wash their heads in clean water on a regular basis to avoid low grade eye infections. waterers which only allow them to dip their bills into the water are, therefore, not ideal.