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Remember that personality traits can be inherited. Mean birds should not be used as breeders unless one feels that one has no other choice.
Consider hatching some chicks, ducklings, or goslings in late spring using broodies.Aside from saving electricity by not having to use an incubator, most broodies do a good job of rearing the hatchlings if provided with a secure pen away from the flock.
In my experience,chickens eggs hatch well with the automatic turning mechanisms in modern incubators. Waterfowl eggs hatch best when laid on their sides and are turned 90 degrees by hand. I have found no significant difference in hatchability, however, when waterfowl eggs are turned more than three times per day.
When making repairs to buildings, pens, and fences, consider upgrading the materials used. Treated wood no longer contains arsenic so there is no longer a reason to avoid using it. Stay away from "chicken wire" as it rusts when used on exterior pens at an unbeleivable rate. One half inch hardware cloth is a far better material to use to protect the lowest 24 inches of pens.
Have you surveyed your pens and fences for evidence of detioration or predator intrusion recently? If not, it is a good idea to do so regularly. Metal rusts, wood rots. Trust me that if you do not check for weaknesses, the local predators will.
Using cheaply made heat lamps in chicken pens can cost a great deal in terms of increased danger of fire. Well made lamps which are designed to minimize the risk of fire can be a bargain in the long run. They are much sturdier and have deeper covers and heavy duty guards.
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.