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Lou's Tips

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Chicks need supplemental heat much longer than do waterfowl. The biggest danger is a sudden drop in temperature can cause an onset of Coccidiosis which can be fatal if not treated promptly. Feed containing Amprolium should be fed through at least 16 weeks and warmth should be steady: lowered when it is hot and increased when there is a cold snap.


One of the biggest causes of mortality in very young waterfowl is dehydration. Failure to find the water or to begin drinking or being without water for some hours can quickly result in losses. I like to dip the bills of my day old Calls, East Indies, and Mandarins in the waterers as I place them in the brooders. Young White Mandarins are especially prone to be slow to begin eating and drinking.


Growing ducklings and goslings grow at perhaps twice the rate of other poultry so keeping up with space requirements is vitally important to achieve optimum results. Overcrowded youngsters will suffer more mortality and feather condition will not be as good.


Production of waterfowl eggs is normally much more concentrated within a more narrow span of time than is production of eggs in chickens. As a result, fewer waterfowl breeders sell hatching eggs.


Many experts agree that waterfowl eggs benefit from cooling on a regular basis during incubation. I found that it is particularly true of goose eggs and larger duck egg but it is also done with bantam duck eggs. Daily cooling for as long as an hour after the first week of incubation tends to produce better hatches.


More on feather picking: Often the culprit is a single bird. If that bird can be spotted, putting it into a group of older chicks will often take care of the problem because the first time it attempts to feather pick, it usually gets the slop knocked out of it.

Moving the group of birds to more spacious quarters is often a big help. I have never observed birds on range have this problem.


Feather pickings is a problem which can arise suddenly and which can result in deaths if not corrected quickly. It is most common in chicks but also happens with waterfowl. Overcrowding, youngsters being kept in brooders too long, or, sometimes simple boredom can cause it to begin.

Picked birds should be treated with a no pick solution like "Pick-no-More" which both sanitizes the wound and discourages further picking. More on this topic next time.


My observations regarding the turning of hatching eggs are as follows:

Standing chicken eggs on end (large end up) seems not to hurt them at all. Waterfowl eggs, on the other hand, seem to hatch better when laid on their sides during incubation.

The number of daily turns that eggs need to hatch well is often exceeded by auto turners. I find that any type of poultry hatching eggs needs no more than 2-3 turns per day although turning more often will not hurt. Eggs should not be turned at all, however, in the last 3-4 days prior to hatching.


Factors that affect incubator humidity include temperature and humidity in the room housing the machine, the amount of venting (fresh air) allowed into the machine and the amount of surface area in water pans supplying moisture.

Opening the vents tends to reduce humidity, adding surface area to the water pan (for example by adding a sponge standing on end) tends to increase humidity.

Relative humidity readings for landfowl should be lower than those for waterfowl.


A very important factor in obtaining good hatches is the moisture content in the egg at the time of hatch. The air cell should comprise about 1/3 of the egg. Much less and the chicks, ducklings, etc. will have a difficult time reaming the inside of the egg and those that do hatch will be sticky and weak.

If the air cell is much too large (too much loss of moisture), the young bird will be smaller than it should be and may not be able to properly hatch.

An egg can only lose moisture, it can never replace that which is lost. Next week; how to control humidity.


Scaley leg mites can trouble both feather legged and clean legged breeds of chickens. They are most easily treated on the clean legged types, however. The mites live under the scales on the bird's legs and feet.

One can kill the mites by covering the legs with vasiline. The carbolated type of vasiline is best but the plain type works, too. 

It usually takes 2-3 treatments until the crusty material formed by the mites is entirely gone


The use of broody female chickens or ducks can be employed to increase hatch rates. Let eggs accumulate in nests to trigger the broody instinct. Nests which are isolated and in dark areas work Best. be certain that other females will not interfere by claiming the nest for themselves. Also, be sure that the broodies are treated for parasites before they begin to be broody. The nest should be located in an area which is secure from predators.


Regarding the clipping or pulling of vent feathers on heavily feathered breeds; I prefer not to as long as fertility is satisfactory. If I do, I would prefer to pull feathers just above and below the vent rather than cutting them. I normally do so only with the males but some breeders trim or cut down feathers on both sexes.


The temperature in the room housing an incubator can have an effect not only on the temperature inside the incubator but on the humidity levels as well. Cold air will contain less humidity. On the other hand, very warm summer temps will force humidity levels inside an incubator up. To counteract that, open air vents more and decrease the surface area of the moisture pan.


This is the time of year to formulate breeding strategies. One can either, for example, leave breeding units intact for the season or rotate males every couple of weeks if one has a surplus of good males. If males are rotated, the tradeoff is less accuracy in terms of breeding records. The upside is several males will contribute their genes to those of the best females.


Just prior to the start of the breeding season is the time to perform routine maintenance chore with incubators and brooders. Check/replace wafers, check replace light bulbs, clean and sanitize equipment. Not a bad idea to pick up a couple of extra wafers to have on hand just in case.


As spring's warmer weather begins to approach and waterfowl egg production is about to begin, ease off on the corn in their diets. No poultry should enter the breeding season overweight. Overweight in both ducks and geese may result in poor fertility in the males and will increase the possibility of prolapses in females.


Do not wait until you want egg production to begin to begin feeding for production. It takes several weeks of being fed breeder quality rations before females have enough nutrients available to produce quality hatching eggs.

Given a choice, I prefer a pelleted feed because it is more likely to provide a balanced diet. 


A piece of breeding advice based on my 50+ years of raising  poultry: over the long run, you will benefit more from putting together small matings of high quality birds than you will from hatching from larger  (or more) matings made up of mediocre birds.

The birds hatched will be much more likely to be worth rearing.


In the long run, it does not pay to set eggs with weird shapes or poor shell quality since those things tend to be inherited traits. Likewise, do not set really soiled eggs unless or until they have been cleaned and sanitized.


Incubator temps need to monitored pretty much every day because as eggs are added each week the increasing heat generated by the developing eggs can increase the temperature as much as a full degree or more.


A recent conversation with a feed store owner has brought good news. The government has decided not to include Amprolium in the list of antibiotics which now require a Vet's prescription. Amprolium is not an antibiotic so it should never have been included in the first place. The bottom line is that "medicated" starter feed will still be available at least unless the government changes policy again. Amprolium prevents losses from Coccidiosis which probably kills more young chicks than all other causes combined. Cocci are protozoa which are neither bacteria nor virus and are found everywhere. The Cocci attack chicks when they are stressed. They also can attack ducklings but not as frequently.


Because humidity requirements and incubation periods are different, the best option is to incubate chicken and waterfowl eggs in separate incubators. Even better; do not hatch eggs in the same machine in which they are incubated. Why? Two reasons; hatching debris is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, and humidity should be much higher in the hatcher than is good for eggs in incubation.


Having had experience with failures of heat lamps that came close to burning down one of my barns, I cannot recommend too strongly the use of high-quality heat lamps and bulbs. Cheap heat lamps are poorly made and can contribute to the loss of chicks, ducklings, or even the building in which they are housed. Cheap heat lamp bulbs are not really designed for the hard use we put them to. The glass is not thick or hardened and will shatter or even break off at the base. Buy lamps and bulbs expressly made for brooding poultry and save yourself from potential disaster.


Since geese often take much longer than either ducks or chickens to form pair bonds, matings should be set up now if they have not already been set up if good fertility is to be expected in the spring.