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Lou's Tips

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Sometimes we tend to take the good things in our lives for granted. Take those who put on and manage our poultry shows for instance. They work hard, sometimes even taking some vacation time to get ready for a show. Often, they are very short of help. Usually, they only hear from those who have a complaint, not a compliment.

Next time you attend a show, stop by the Secretary's desk and offer some thanks.


Attention to detail can result in dividends at shows. For example, extra care in cleaning feet and legs, shaping of crests in crested breeds, trimming of beaks in chickens, ect. Sometimes, attention to such details will determine how far a bird will go once it wins it's class or even if it will win it's class.


Frosts are beginning to occur in the midwest which usually signals the end of the current West Nile Virus season since it kills the mosquitoes which carry the virus.


If you are losing birds this time of year and suspect West Nile Virus, try allowing them in the pasture only during the day and protecting them inside a building or in screened penning at night. My bantam ducks do not hesitate to hunt and eat mosquitoes during the day but are vulnerable at night while sleeping.


Ordinarily, I do not recommend washing waterfowl prior to a show, but sometimes it must be done. If one must wash a duck or goose, use a very mild soap and wash the birds 3-5 days before the show is to begin. That should allow the bird to begin to preen and to replace the oils lost due to washing.


West Nile Virus has spread all over North America except for those areas with desert climates. It affects Mallard derivative duck breeds which seem to be the most vulnerable. Young birds are most likely to be affected. Chickens do not show any symptoms. Hundreds of species of birds and animals can and do contract West Nile Virus.


Are you losing bantam ducks this time of year? Do you believe that the cause is West Nile Virus? Consider screening you rearing pens for them. Even if they are out on pasture during the day, mosquitoes are generally not as active then and you can reduce mortality if they are protected from them overnight. More on West Nile next week.


With the fall show season coming up fast, it is time to begin fitting your potential show birds. Begin identifying them well before entries are due. Go over the birds and remove damaged feathers 6-8 weeks before they are to be shown. More next week.


For either growing ducklings or goslings, do not provide more swimming water than they can handle. Until their wings are fully in, young waterfowl can have trouble getting out of artificial pools with steep sides. They can easily drown in such pools. Be sure that their feet can easily touch the bottom.


At this time of year when both waterfowl and landfowl are molting, every effort should be made to provide optimum nutrition. Ideally, that would include access to pasture. Molting stresses birds as greatly as any other situation and nutritional support will be repaid at the shows during the fall.


I am asked occasionally "do waterfowl ever come down with Coccidiosis?"  The answer is yes, they do but much more rarely than do other forms of poultry. As a precaution, I use medicated "Start & Grow" feed for about the first two months of life for my bantam ducklings. The active ingredient in the medication is Amprolium and it will not harm the ducklings.


Of all the breeds of bantam ducks I have used for broodies, I have found Mallards and East Indies to be the most reliable. While large breeds may be reliable as setters and can certainly cover more eggs, they may be too heavy and can crush bantam duck eggs.


I am often asked which of the many varieties of Calls make the best sitters. In my experience, Pastels, Blue Fawns, and white bibbed Blues make good sitters as a whole. Grays not quite as reliable. Whites seem to think that the incubation period is 2 1/2- 3 weeks.

Of course, individual birds in any color may be very good to terrible.


Egg shape does affect hatchability to an extent. Eggs which are nearly round or are elongated tend to hatch more poorly than more normally shaped ones.


A least in their first week of life, it is probably a good policy to provide only narrow lipped waterers for bantam ducklings. They tend to play in the wide-lipped waterers and as a result, can soak themselves. Losses can then occur. Large breed ducklings usually do not have that problem.


This time of year, many breeders begin to let their birds steal nests and hatch. It is a tried and true way of finishing a hatching season but problems do occur. Females abandon partially incubated eggs for a number of reasons. Even if the eggs are cold, eggs well into the incubation cycle can sometimes be salvaged by placing them into an incubator as soon as possible. 


A significant danger to young ducklings and goslings on pasture is being caught in a sudden rain storm before they are fully feathered over their backs. Apparently dead birds in that situation can sometimes be revived by putting them on the door of an open oven set at 140 degrees or under a heat lamp.


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.