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Breeders of exotic species of waterfowl in particular should be wary of feeding processed feeds containing "distillery grains". Some species are likely to be adversely affected by it. No tests have been attempted on any species other than commercial chickens to the best of my knowlege.
Do you have enough brooder space to avoid overcrowding your chicks, ducklings, or goslings as they get past the hatching stage? One of the primary causes of losses is the overcowding of young birds as they advance in size.
Normally, young males in either waterfowl or chickens are fertile earliest in the season. If one has a choice, saving older males until the season is well under way may mimimize infertility.
Allowing waterfowl (especially heavy breeds) to enter the breeding season in an overfat condition may increase the likelihood of prolapsed oviducts in females and infertility in males.
The use of Niteguard devices which simulate the "eye shine" of predators at night seems to significantly reduce the number of predators such as raccoons which used to visit my birds facilities on a nightly basis. I tested the devices for the last four months. They are solar powered so no external power sources is needed. The devices should be at the predator's level and should directly face the animal as it approaches.
Chicks, ducklings, and goslings all share the same vulnerability to bacterial infection the first few days of their lives while they absorb the yolk sack into their bodies through their navels.Those that hatch even a day prematurely are especially vulnerable. Brooders used for very young birds need to be carefully sterilized between uses. Incubator temps need to be carefully monitored to be sure that hatchlings hatch at the proper time.
It is prudent to begin putting together matings of waterfowl at least one month before the first eggs are expected. In geese, another concern is having ganders that have been running together in a flock separated before they get aggressive with one another as the breeding season approaches.
Two important things to consider when placing an incubator are that the incubator must be level and that it be free of external vibrations. If either problem exists, the incubator will not function properly and hatches will be affected.
To safeguard the health of newly hatched chicks, ducklings, and goslings, preventative measures are a good idea. That means going over brooder equipment and feeders/ waterers carefully with a disinfectant prior to use. Keep on hand an antibiotic in powder form such as Neomycin to head off problems should they occur.
I have found that in my experience both chicken and waterfowl eggs hatch very well when turned just twice a day when the eggs are set on their sides and turned 90 degrees. Neither type needs to be turned the last four days prior to hatch and indeed should not be turned then.
With more limited access to pasture as well as the protein found in bugs while foraging, it is important to supplement winter diet for both waterfowl and chickens with either a product such as Red Cell (added to feed) or perhaps dried or live meal worms which supply animal protein. Better yet, do both.
As a followup on my warning to waterfowlers about the potential damage to waterfowl in feeds incorporating distillary grains, here is info I have gathered so far: Nutrena All Flock- 7.5% distillary grains, Purina claims no DG in either their Duck Grower or Gamebird Breeder feeds. Buckeye claims no DG in any of their poultry feeds. Especially breeders of wild /exotic waterfowl are best advised to check this out.
Keep in mind that eggs your birds produce in super cold weather can freeze to the point where the embryo is killed in as little as 20 minutes. Plan egg collection accordingly.
Urgent message to waterfowl breeders: Multiple feed companies have begun incorporating ethanol byproducts (leftovers from ethanol production) into poultry feeds. This can lead to kidney failure in waterfowl according to the Penn. St. Pathology lab. Evidently, such use of "distillery grains" is not harmful to chickens at the present concentration. Waterfowl breeders should contact their feed suppliers to verify that ethanol by-products are not in processed feeds fed to waterfowl.
With the big feed companies consolidating the types of feed they make, be sure that what you are feeding really fills your bird's nutritional needs. Vitamin packages are especially important. A relatively cheap "insurance policy" is to add supplementary vitamins to your feed/water.
Last week's tips mentioned keeping one's flock free of parasites. There are both internal (worms) and external parasites (mites/lice). The only med of which I am aware that will control both types is Ivomectin. Personally, I prefer to treat them separately but it is important to deal with both types.
This is the time of year that the groundwork is laid for good breeding seasons. The birds should be kept in good flesh, clean, and free of parasites.
It is tempting to set every egg that good birds lay but setting excessively soiled eggs in an incubator can lead to contamination of other eggs with bacteria. Washing filthy eggs often removes the natural protection that keeps bacteria from entering the shell. It may be best to discard those eggs and concentrate on providing clean places for the birds to lay their eggs in the future.
When chickens are prepared for an upcoming show and have been washed, it is advisable to switch them to a hard grain such as wheat for the few days leading up to the show to reduce the amount of soft droppings. White chickens should not be fed corn before being shown as it tends to add a yellow cast to white plumage.
If you intend to order eggs, chicks/ducklings/goslings or adults from any breeder next spring/ summer don't wait until then to contact the breeder and place the order. High quality stock is often short in quantity. Early orders almost always are a good idea and often are an absolute necessity to avoid disappointment.
Resist the temptation to make corn your primary grain for the birds until the really cold weather sets in. Corn is high in fat and low in energy and other nutrients A better choice would be oats, wheat, or a mix of the two. Birds have to be taught to eat oats but it is a highly nutritious grain. I only feed corn when there is zero weather with which to contend.
Remember that fall is by far the best time of year to purchase new stock. It is the one time of year when supply is the greatest. Spring is the worst time to purchase birds.
Not all mite/louse treatments are created equal. Adams Flea Off, for example, only is effective for 2-3 weeks and I am told that it does not kill all species of mites.
The best product I have found is the spray bottle form of Frontline. It kills all species of mites and is effective for three months. Warning: it is much more expensive than other brands but only one squirt is required for each bird.
An excellent way to winterize pens which are in use during winter months is to cover the sides in heavy mill clear plastic. The light still comes through but the birds are shielded from the wind and snow. The use of roofing nails (1 1/4 inch) which come with round plastic gaskets works well in fastening the plastic to pen sides.
With the days getting shorter, it is more important than ever to lock up range birds before dark. A whole range of predators including Great Horned Owls begin to hunt as darkness falls.