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Normally, I do not recommend that any type of poultry be allowed to become overweight for a variety of reasons. With Calls, however, I make an exception due to their relatively small body size. Being several ounces over their usual weight will allow them to combat the extreme cold experienced in many parts of the country.


Last week I suggested that the opportunity for regular bathing is really beneficial to waterfowl, especially in the winter.

Given regular below freezing temps in many parts of the country, unfrozen water may take some equipment such as a stock tank heater submerged in a molded plastic pool but it will be worth the effort.


One of the most beneficial things one can do for waterfowl during the winter is to provide them with the opportunity to swim if not all the time at least on a regular basis.

doing so will keep them clean, encourage them to preen and oil their plumage, and may help keep eye infections to a minimum.


For outside pens (in shelters) I recommend either clean straw or pine shavings for bedding. Do not use hay since it lacks absorbency and can contain mold spores. In either case, one can add layers as needed until cleanout in spring.


Bedding is necessary for both waterfowl and landfowl, especially in winter. I have found for inside pens, pine shavings works best for me because it is both absorbant and helps insulate a cold floor. Beware of shavings which include walnut products because it can permanently stain white plumage in waterfowl in particular.


Probably the weakest part of most breeder's facilities is their rearing pens which tend to be insufficient if there are big hatches. Losses and poorly developed young birds will result in those situations. You will never be sorry if you build more rearing pens than you think you will need.


When changing feed with poultry, it is best to do so gradually rather than all at once. Sudden changes in diet have been known to trigger partial molts.


It is time to winterize pens in which birds will be housed for the winter in colder sections of the country. Thick mill clear plastic over wire sides will reduce the effects of cold winds. 

If at all possible, use heated waterers to ensure that birds have all the water they need during the winter.


Considerations other than good ventilation when constructing carrying coops include smooth inside walls, proper dimensions for the type of bird to be carried, and, to an extent, lightness in weight. Weight is a minor concern for young exhibitors and becomes more important with advancing age.


When constructing or purchasing boxes designed to transport poultry to shows or elsewhere, it is vital that good ventilation is taken into consideration. Birds are lost every year from overheating.


Since heavy egg production quickly sends chickens out of show condition, it is good to feed mostly a mixture of grains once the females have finished moulting. I use a mix of about 50% oats and 25% wheat with the remainder being scratch grain.


Some breeders of both bantams and large fowl are tempted to hatch a group of chicks in the fall to provide birds in their primes for spring shows. The one problem with that scenario is that heat must be provided for those chicks all winter in cold climates.


"Stay White" strains of white chickens are definitely the way to go for show purposes. The adults do tend to display some gray or black flecks in the plumage which can and should be removed prior to showing.


A so-called "stay white" strain of any white variety of chicken is simply one that has a silver gene in their genetic background. That gene allows birds to remain white even when exposed to the sun and/or corn in their diets. More next week.


Washing birds is best done 2-3 days prior to a show. A dish detergent such as Dawn which has a bit of bluing already added is a good choice.  You should rinse 2-3 times with the first rinse containing distilled white vinegar works well.


Good transport containers for poultry have several things in common: they are well ventilated,  have smooth sides, and ideally keep individuals from soiling each other or fighting. Do not carry a "million dollar bird" in a 10 cent carrier.


Good birds can be beaten by lesser ones if they are not properly washed and fitted. See my article on fitting for shows. Pull broken feathers at least 8 weeks prior to being shown.  Don't forget to coop train your birds as wild birds seldom win.


Doing a good job of raising show birds is only part of the secret of success in the showroom. One must condition the birds well and then transport them to the show in containers which keep them from being damaged in some way. Failure to do those extra things can ruin months of hard work. More on these topics to come.


Want to lessen the chances that a tick will get you  or your dog in your own backyard? Let your chickens and/or ducks roam your yard. They are excellent tick hunters when given the opportunity. The fact is that both chickens and ducks are truly omnivores in nature. They crave both vegetation and animal protein.


A couple of more things about composting with chickens. Never put fresh chicken manure around plants during the growing season as the high nitrogen can burn the plants.

Over winter, however, one can add fresh manure on beds even throwing it on the snow. Snow and rain will break it down and cool it off for you. 


Chicken raisers who are also gardeners should not miss the chance to use their bird's natural habits to create compost. I have built compost piles for decades but always struggled to optimize the process by turning the piles. Chickens naturally will accomplish that for you if you just give them the chance. In the fall and spring, I pile all of my green refuse (weeds, trimmings, etc.) in one of my pens and add dead leaves and other debris. The chickens will turn it into useful compose as least as fast as a well tended compost pile can create compost. They will also, of course, add their own manure which makes the compost even better.


We are approaching the time of the year in many areas of the country when losses from West Nile Virus will begin to happen. It almost always strikes young waterfowl rather than fully mature adults and virtually all which show symptoms will perish within a couple of days. The virus is carried by mosquitoes so anything which can be done to keep the mosquitoes from biting the birds may help. Some claim that the use of the equine West Nile vaccine will protect the birds but not scientific verification seems to exist yet.


The second major concern in pasturing poultry is predation. Depending on where you live, the main threat could be Racoons or Coyotes, which would mean that the birds will require tight fencing and a secure enclosure overnight. In other areas, the predator may be air born in the forms of hawks, owls, or even eagles. Overhead netting protecting open areas of the pen can help greatly. 


Chickens, geese, and some types of ducks really benefit from being on range but there are concerns that must be taken into account. Some common weeds found in pastures are toxic: Nightshade and Pokeweed to name just two. Check with your local Extension Office to find out what is common in your area and how best to control them. More next week on this topic.


More on the treatment of Coccidiosis. Amprolium is the most effective treatment but the amount contained in medicated starter feeds is for prevention, not the actual treatment of an existing outbreak. One needs to follow directions of products such as Corrid which recommends doubling the amount of Amprolium used for prevention once an onset of Coccidiosis begins. Even if quick improvement is observed, be sure to follow the directions and continue treatment for 5-7 days.