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Lou's Tips

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When I mentioned in last week's tips that waterfowl take longer to hatch, that is true in two respects. The normal incubation period for most ducks is 28 days rather than 21 days for chickens. Some geese can take a couple of days longer to hatch and Muscovys can take as much as 32 days.

Also, waterfowl may take longer to complete the hatching process than upland fowl.


A significant difference in the incubator management of waterfowl eggs is that they need more humidity than chicken eggs and they take much longer to hatch. Depending on egg size, waterfowl eggs can need from 5-10 % for humidity during incubation.


There are some significant differences in the handling of hatching eggs for chickens and waterfowl. It is fine to incubate chicken eggs in an incubator in which the eggs are positioned large end up. Waterfowl eggs are best incubated on their sides and turned ninety degrees. I prefer to do so by hand. More on the differences in incubation practices next time.


Most breeders know that increasing the length of light during the winter can increase the rate of egg production in poultry. what you may not know is that just turning on the lights to a 24-hour cycle can actually reduce egg production. Use timers and increase light gradually for best results.


As we approach March 1st, waterfowl breeders should begin to put together duck breeding units if the birds have been housed together during the winter. I try to allow at least two weeks before setting hatching eggs once the breeding groups have been isolated.


When the temps drop, it is important to gather hatching eggs as frequently as possible. An egg will freeze to the point of embryo death within 1/2 hour in sub-zero temperatures.  


The use of heat lamps to help poultry in frigid weather can have unintended consequences. Poultry are very light sensitive and even the use of infrared bulbs can trigger laying when the keeper does not want egg production to begin. Likewise, even one small wattage bulb in a building can trigger egg production.


I occasionally hear from people concerned about toxic plants in their poultry pastures. That can be a rather complicated subject to cover.

I recommend contacting the local Extension Office for info on local toxic plants since they can vary by region. Also be aware that only parts of some plants are toxic and in some cases, only toxic during specific periods of the growing season.


When attempting to produce young during the winter, it is important to take into consideration the need for supplementary light for both males and females. Ideally, males should be put under supplementary light for about two weeks prior to the introduction of females. 


I define "failure to thrive" as a condition where a bird never comes into good condition and/or never achieves an appropriate weight.  Such birds are often a waste of resources and end up dying in spite of extraordinary care. Such birds come up in all types of fowl and often exhibit good qualities which prompts the breeder to bestow care better used elsewhere.


One last thing about treating for mites. When treating a large group of birds together in one pen/house, consider doing so at night after the birds have gone to roost. It will be much quicker and one is less likely to miss birds.


Regarding the treatment of mites, products containing Ivomectin work best for me. It takes much less product to protect a bird and the results last a few months instead of a few weeks. The brand I use is Frontline but any brand containing Ivomectin should produce similar results.


This time of year in particular, it is prudent to watch for and treat mite infestations in your chickens. If you notice that a bird seems to be pale and listless, it is often a sign of mite problems. 


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.