Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hannibal Pecker Update!

Thankfully, after removing our Silkies from the main coop, we haven't had any new chicken fatalities. I'm also very happy to report that the Ameraucana bums are feathering beautifully and no one seems to be picking on them since the homicide the other night. Here's to hoping we won't ever have to experience that again!

I'm going tonight to pick up our new Silkie Shack! It's a used coop that a man made out of a Little Tikes Log Cabin. We plan to make some simple updates, pressure wash it, and build a small run for the Silkies so they have a place all their own...out of our garage!

I'll be posting pics of both coops very soon...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cannibalism: The Hannibal Lecter of Chickens

After 3 nights of having our Silkies in the new coop with the rest of the flock without any integration problems, I decided to allow them to spend the daylight hours together as well. Sadly, we came home yesterday to find one of the Silkies dead. She was killed by some of the others...they pecked her to death and proceded to eat her until we got there to stop their feeding frenzy.

While I knew that this happens in the world of chickens, it was horrifying for me. And, I feel it could have been prevented. When I began to blog about our experience, I never imagined I'd have to discuss anything like this. I have tried very hard to do everything right, so our hens would always be happy & healthy. I'm hoping that by sharing our experience, others that start their own backyard flock can avoid making the same mistake that we did.

We have taken very seriously the responsibility of raising our own backyard laying flock. I have read and researched. We have provided ample living & run space, the right feed & forage, excellent care, and plenty of love to our girls yet we are currently having to deal with the unfortunate experience of cannibalism in our flock. There are many treatment & prevention measures that one can take to hopefully avoid such a problem.

We have done most of them.

I say most, because we did one thing that I believe is the most likely cause of the chicken homicide. We introduced new chickens to the flock and upset the pecking order at least one too many times.

Twelve of our girls were raised together from chick to present. Even though we had mixed breeds, there didn't seem to be a problem. A few weeks ago we introduced 3 Silver-Laced Wyandottes that were about the same age as the rest. At first, a couple of our original girls were letting the new Wyandottes know who was boss, but things settled down and everyone was happy again. Shortly after, we added the 4 Ameraucanas. The newer Wyandottes and a few of our original girls began to pick and peck at the Ameraucanas emerging tail feathers. No big deal... until they started drawing blood. In order to combat the pecking & any possible infection, we sprayed the Ameraucanas with Bactine and smeared a thick coat of antibiotic ointment and Vaseline on their sore bums. This seemed to have worked. After about a week of monitoring the behavior and bums, everyone seemed to be getting along. We then decided to introduce the Silkies. BIG MISTAKE. A mistake that cost my Silkie her life.

All of these introductions continued to upset the pecking order and wreak havoc in the coop. Once the problem has gone from pecking and feather picking to blood and broken flesh to homicide, you've got a big problem. If one chicken starts, others follow. After it starts, I've heard & read that it's hard to stop it. This is where we are now.

We've removed the Silkies and placed them back in the safety of our pen in the garage. Because of their small size, we plan to have a separate coop for them soon so we never have to attempt to put them with the others again. We are going to keep a very close eye on the coop to be sure the Hannibal Peckers don't start picking on the Ameraucanas again. If they continue, we'll be faced with the difficult decision to cull the culprits. While I'm not thrilled about that idea, it's certainly not humane to allow the cannibals of this flock to feast on their coop-mates. If the problem persists, the guilty peckers will most likely become chicken stock. It's a sad reality of chicken ownership. One I had hoped I'd never have to encounter.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Harvest Fair...FREE Family Fun!

Since Autumn began yesterday, I thought Harvest Fair at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds would be the perfect family fun activity to spotlight... Not to mention the fact that it opens TODAY!

While I love the warm months of Summer and the fresh days
of Spring, there is just something about the Fall activities, smells, eats, and cool, but not too cool, weather that I love. It just kinda' makes me feel all warm & fuzzy inside and out. As a matter of fact, I'm considering petitioning Mother Nature for a longer Fall and MUCH shorter Winter! So far, she has failed to return my calls.

Harvest Fair has alot to offer
...starting with the FREE admission! Free is for me folks. Too bad all the eats and activities aren't free as well. Activities include, but are not limited to: caramel apples, cookie decorating, hay rides, scarecrow making, Elegant Farmer apple pie (baked in a bag), pumpkin bowling, camel & pony rides, inflatable attractions for the kids, a kiddie train, Farmer's Market, Harvest Bazaar, petting zoo, pumpkin patch, and more....whew!

are some notable performers/bands playing this year, including: Jack Ingram, Cherry Pie, The Toys, and Skid Row to name a few. Nothing like going back in time with a great hair band or two!

If you're
ready for an early scare, Haunt Fest is having a "soft opening" during Harvest Fair on 9/24 & 9/25 from 7pm-11pm at a discounted rate of $12.

on your favorite fall sweater and head down to Harvest Fair this weekend for some warm & fuzzy fall fun! If you do go, come on back and post your favorite activities in the comment section...I'd love to hear all about it!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chicken Eats!

Anytime you plan to raise an animal of any kind, it's always a good idea to know what you need to feed them! I knew I was going to start my chicks on a complete chick starter/grower (I used medicated, but there are non-medicated feeds as well). Once they are close to laying age, I plan to switch to a 18% layer crumble (non-medicated, of course).

As my ladies began to grow, I wondered what other kinds of things I could feed them. The complete feeds must get boring, right?! I started talking to customers that have chickens and researching online. I wanted to give them some variety and forage to avoid boredom which can lead to problems like pecking & cannibalism in a flock.

It turns out, chickens will eat just about anything! Here's a list of some of the things we've given them (in no particular order)...And, let me tell you, they are happy hens when I come out in the morning with their treats! They gather at one end of the coop waiting for me to get there.

Alfalfa Hay
Tomatoes (I heard from one producer that tomatoes can affect egg quality if fed too often)
Lettuce/Greens (any kind)
Black Oil Sunflower
Leftover cooked Garlic & Herb Rice (they gobbled that up like crazy!)

I've also learned that they fancy oatmeal, yogurt, cottage cheese, cooked eggs and many other things we have yet to try! I've also been working on creating my own version of Purina's Flock Block. My first recipe worked, but it needed a bit more binding agent so that it would stay together better after baking. Once I get it perfected, I'll share the recipe with you folks.

There are a few things you should avoid feeding, including: dry/undercooked beans, raw/green potato peels, candy, chocolate, sugar, raw eggs, avocado skin & pit, citrus, and foods high in salt. The beans, potatoes, avocado & high-levels of salt can be toxic. Feeding raw eggs could encourage them to eat the eggs they lay before you have a chance to collect them and, well, candy/chocolate/sugar aren't necessarily good for us or other animals, so let's assume we don't want our chickens getting it either!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Silkies~The Rubin Ranch

Our backyard flock started with our Silkies. I love their whimsical look. They have a small, heart-shaped body, five toes (different than the typical 4 for other breeds), black skin, silky hair-like plumage, and a very fashionable poof of that silky plumage atop their cute little heads!

Silkies are considered an ornamental breed. They only lay approximately 3 fun-size eggs per week, so this is not a bird you'd want to get for exceptional egg production. We got them for fun and the kids really like them. Silkies are sweet natured; some even call them the "lap dog of chickens." They are very dainty in comparison to my other breeds. Since moving the others ladies out to the chicken condo, I've noticed that our Silkies don't make quite the dusty mess of our garage that the others did and they manage to keep their food/water fairly clean. They even seem to be dropping most of their little meadow muffins in two corners of the pen! Since getting 3 new little Silkies, I decided to keep them in until they get a little bigger. Brooke, our older Silkie, is living up to the mothering reputation of Silkies by tending to the new little ones.

I've learned throughout this process that finding the right breeder/hatchery is important.
Lucky for us, we found a great breeder when it came to looking for our Silkies. Elana Rubin @ The Rubin Ranch in Mequon, WI knows her stuff and has been spectacular. If you're ever looking to add Silkies to your flock, please, give Elana a call. I have her site linked under the Happy Hen Links section as well.