Poultry Supplements: Grit and Calcium

Most people who keep chickens already know the basics of necessary supplements. For decades, probably even longer, grit and a calcium source have been at the top of the list for poultry keeping necessities, both dependent upon the poultry’s access to natural supplementation.

It is thought by some that providing a good quality layer pellet will meet all calcium needs and additional calcium supplementation is not needed; however, we feel it’s “better safe than sorry” and provide a crushed oyster shell supplement at all times.

egg shell anatomy
From: http://www.pysanky.info/Other/Egg_Bioscience.html

An average sized egg shell contains approximately 2 grams of calcium, and a hen of laying age needs about double that (4 grams) per day in calcium supplement to properly produce eggs.1 To understand the need for calcium supplementation, it is important to fully understand the calcification process – the creation of the egg shell in the shell gland during egg production. Female birds have evolved a special bone feature called the medullary bone that allows them to store extra calcium for egg shell production. Under normal circumstances, birds carry calcium in their blood plasma to use with common biological functions, but that level of calcium is only available for a short period of time and is not a level high enough for calcification. Through special biological & hormonal functions during breeding season, female birds store extra calcium in the medullary bone and are able to quickly withdraw this calcium for the calcification process. This only occurs during breeding season, except in domestic birds that have been bred to lay year-round, in which this process continues the entire laying life of domestic poultry. While the medullary bone has a special regenerative ability, years of continued year-round laying can lead to calcium deficiency in other skeletal bones. “Medullary bone, unlike structural bone, is capable of undergoing rapid absorption and renewal. Unfortunately, resorption of structural bone also occurs causing the symptoms of osteoporosis (Whitehead, 2004). Osteoporosis is caused by a decrease in the amount of fully mineralised structural bone leading to bone fragility and susceptibility to fracture…”.2

Laying poultry may be able to obtain the needed level of calcium from their laying feed, but the form of calcium used in layer feed passes quickly through the digestive system resulting in a limited absorption time and insufficient levels for proper calcification. In a typical egg production cycle, the calcification process occurs in the early morning hours when chickens are roosted and not consuming feed. Limestone is a common calcium supplement, and many people offer egg shells to their flock, which is a good source of calcium. However, studies have shown that, overall, crushed oyster shell is a superior calcium source resulting in the best quality egg shell production. Crushed oyster shell takes longer than other supplements to pass through the crop & gizzard thus providing a longer period of calcium availability, better stabilization of blood calcium levels throughout the night, as well as helping to properly maintain the medullary bone for long-term laying.3,4

At our farm, some of our birds get to free range everyday, but due to breeding restrictions, some have to make do with large runs. While they do have access to large areas of ground, they may not have enough access to “grit”, and they certainly don’t have access to lots of bugs and other goodies that might provide extra calcium. Due to that limited access, our birds are provided free-choice access to our custom-mixed grit/calcium/charcoal at all times.

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We typically use Manna Pro Poultry Grit (insoluble crushed granite) to mix with a quality oyster shell. Grit is required for all poultry consuming anything besides layer feeds, such as scratch grains, clippings, or food scraps. Commercial feed breaks down quickly in the digestive tract and typically does not require grit to properly digest. However, because poultry do not have teeth, they must have grit in their gizzard to grind what they have consumed. Without grit there is a high risk of developing impacted or sour crop (not just in the crop) due to things getting backed up and not passing through properly. Even pastured poultry should be provided grit to ensure there is proper sized grit particles for their consumption.5 Additionally, grit helps better digest and get the most nutrients out of what the bird has eaten.


As an added perk to our free choice grit/calcium, we also add a small amount of activated charcoal. For centuries, people have utilized charcoal as a detoxifier to bind toxins & harmful chemicals and prevent them from being absorbed in the body. Activated charcoal works through a process called adsorption where its extremely porous surface binds to toxins, chemicals, heavy metals, and more as it moves through the digestive system and is eliminated naturally. Activated charcoal should be used in moderation because, unfortunately, it can also bind to good chemicals and reduce nutrient absorption.6 We offer this in our free choice mix because we believe that our birds naturally know when and how much to consume.


Disclosure: Mo’s Mini Farm offers this information as a guide to poultry care and as an opinion based on the best reputable information available to us. We attempt to reference factual information from reputable books, websites, and scientific publications. We always encourage others to do their own research which is why we provide footnotes and references for you to utilize.


For overall information regarding all things chicken health related, we recommend The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow (2015, 2nd edition; Story Publishing). The following sections were referenced for the above information: “Medullary Bone”, pg 70; “The Calcium Connection”, pp 116-117; “Grit for the Gizzard”, pg 40; and “Tale of Two Stomachs”, pg 80.


1 “Nutrient requirements of egg laying chickens”,  2018 Poultry Hub: http://www.poultryhub.org/nutrition/nutrient-requirements/nutrient-requirements-of-egg-laying-chickens/


 2 M. M. Bain, Y. Nys, and I.C. Dunn, “Increasing persistency in lay and stabilising egg quality in longer laying cycles. What are the challenges?”, May 3, 2016; published in British Poultry Science, 57(3): 330–338. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940894/#S0007title (May 23, 2016)


3 T. G. Taylor, “How an Eggshell Is Made”, March 1970; published in Scientific American, 222:88-95. https://accounts.smccd.edu/case/biol215/docs/eggshell.pdf


4 R. Meyer, R. C. Baker, and M. L. Scott – Department of Poultry Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y. 14850, “Effects of Hen Egg Shell and Other Calcium Sources Upon Egg Shell Strength and Ultrastructure”, August 28, 1972; published in Poultry Science, 52: 949-955, 1973. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.837.1048&rep=rep1&type=pdf


5 Tiffany Towne, “Grit for Chickens: When in Doubt, Put it Out”, October 18, 2017. https://countrysidenetwork.com/daily/poultry/feed-health/grit-for-chickens-digestive-health-when-in-doubt-put-it-out/


6 Maat van Uitert, “Charcoal For Chickens”, November 7, 2016. https://www.hobbyfarms.com/charcoal-for-chickens/


Additional Resources:


 

Some of the links on Mo’s Mini Farm pages are affiliate links, which means that if you decide to purchase a product through them we will receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you! This helps us to keep the information on the website free of charge and to support our farm adventure. Because we value our integrity in recommending products, we only recommend products we have purchased and used. We may occasionally provide links to a product we are considering or planning to purchase, but we will always be sure to clearly state this fact. For more information about our affiliate relationships please see our Affiliates Disclosure Document.


Double-Yolk Eggs Could Mean Trouble

Earlier this week, we thought we had a broody hen already occupying our most popular nest box in a largest flock. 20170414_174255Splotchy had set up camp and was sending out her broody sounding warnings anytime another hen came around. She is the only EasterEgger hen in the flock and lays a nice blue egg, and she is also the hen who sneaked hatching three fuzzballs late last summer. She’s relatively young – just coming into lay last spring, so we thought she’s just going to be one of those broody-every-time-you-blink kind of hens. Since we are in no short supply of chickens right now and anything she might hatch would be a real barnyard mix, we were not real interested in letting her continue.

Shortly after the discovery, we could hear a very loud egg song coming from the coop. Mama Mo mentioned to Papa Mo that Splotchy was already broody for this season, to which he inquired if that was her making all the noise (he rarely hears the egg song since he’s typically left for work when the hens get moving for the day). We discussed since she was broody she shouldn’t be laying and went about our work repairing another chicken hutch.

Later in the afternoon, Mama Mo noticed she was out of the nest box and used that opportunity to collect any eggs before Splotchy had the chance to hatch anything. Surprise! There was a gigantic blue egg in the box! No wonder she was camped out in there for so long and making so much noise! Not surprisingly, it was a double-yolk egg that most likely resulted mainly from upset to the coop arrangement for that folk.

This mostly young flock was overwintered in a storage-building-turned-barn, and we are trying to finish it out as a permanent coop. Unfortunately, many of the young pullets have already started laying for the first time, and we are scrambling (no pun intended) to get nest boxes and such prepared for them, resulting in lots of confusion and disruption to regular laying right now.

Now, we tell this story to explain about double-yolk eggs. Many people think they are cool and some even brag that their hen lays double-yolk eggs all the time. We feel that, not only from the hen’s perspective (have you heard them yelling when laying those giant eggs??) but from a healthy chicken perspective, it could possibly not be such a good thing. And here is why: it means the hen’s reproductive tract could be stressed &/or injured.

An egg is produced when ovum/yolk is released into the oviduct to go through the cycle of forming the egg that is laid. About an hour+/- after an egg is laid, another mature yolk is released to start its cycle which takes approximately 25 hours to complete. The entire egg production cycle is a finely tuned process that can occasionally experience a “glitch”. If there is a glitch in the cycle, multiple things can result, such as more than one yolk being released causing a double-yolk egg to develop. This particular glitch in the egg production cycle is typically the result of hormonal change or imbalance as young hens are beginning to lay eggs or as an older hen’s typical egg production cycle slows down. It can also be hereditary, and some cultures in other countries breed for this trait.

The double-yolk phenomenon is typically harmless and produces perfectly edible eggs, but it does usually mean an extra-large egg which increases the risk of egg binding, vent prolapse (part of the oviduct protrudes from the vent) , or peritonitis (infection caused by yolks falling out of the reproductive tract). All of these can lead to death through injury &/or infection.

If your hen consistently produces abnormally large double-yolk eggs, she should be watched closely for any complications that could result from stressing or injuring the reproductive tract. Some hens that produce double-yolk eggs do so with normal size eggs (we suspect these are the hereditary cases) and are at far less risk of developing any complications.

Here are multiple articles discussing double-yolk eggs, egg production, and other associated problems:



 

Some of the links on Mo’s Mini Farm pages are affiliate links, which means that if you decide to purchase a product through them we will receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you! This helps us to keep the information on the website free of charge and to support our farm adventure. Because we value our integrity in recommending products, we only recommend products we have purchased and used. We may occasionally provide links to a product we are considering or planning to purchase, but we will always be sure to clearly state this fact. For more information about our affiliate relationships please see our Affiliates Disclosure Document.


Get Out the Lime & Salt…It’s Time to Paint the Coop!

No, we’re not making margaritas (although that might be interesting)…We’re going to Whitewash the coop! When someone mentions whitewashing, a long wooden fence and kids toiling away at painting under the direction of the infamous Tom Sawyer is what usually comes to mind. However, traditional whitewashing has long been a standard for maintaining wooden structures…and fencing. Now, you may be asking, “What exactly is traditional whitewashing?” Unlike the modern trends of diluting white latex paint with water to get that “whitewash look” for furniture or interior surfaces, traditionally, whitewashing is done with a mixture of lime, salt, and water – specifically a combination of hydrated lime, a powder derived from limestone, and salt to improve adhesion mixed into water for application.

Lime is used in many applications from kitchen uses like pickling and preserving eggs to industrial & agricultural uses like mortar additive and soil amendment. For 100’s, if not 1,000’s of years, people have used a whitewash mixture to preserve, sanitize, and brighten up wood structures – especially on the farm. We have whitewashed several of our smaller chicken coop/hutches for a few years now, and we have been pleased with the results. Whitewashing provides antibacterial properties along with repellent properties.

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In this case, with a small hutch, it is easier to lay it on its side while whitewashing the inside. It’s so nice knowing that these nosey girls are perfectly safe getting all in the middle of it!

The best part? Whitewash is completely non-toxic for your animals – they can even lick it off the wall with no harm…Of course, there may be reason for concern with a chicken licking the wall, but that’s another issue…Plus, no heavy, fumes or off-gases to worry about – the chickens can come right back in the coop. Or, if they’re like ours, get right in the middle of it while you’re trying to paint.

There are a few downsides to using whitewash. The biggest problem is that it is water-soluble, so it will not work well for outside or an area that may get wet frequently. Another small problem is that it does rub or flake off over time. If you rub against a whitewashed wall, you’re likely to have white on your clothes or skin, but it does not stain and washes out easily. Unfortunately, this means that it has to be redone every year or so. However, it doesn’t take long to do during an annual “spring cleaning” of the coops and is really worth the little bit of extra work.

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Whitewashed Rooster Hutches: Here is a freshly whitewashed hutch drying in the sun. The white streaks are where the whitewash is mostly dry while the other areas are still wet. When it is fully dry, it will look like the temporarily-removed sides in the background.

There are lots of “recipes” online, and most call for 3:1 or 4:1 lime salt ratio mixed with approximately 1 gallon of water. You can review several links below for additional information about whitewashing, as well as the recipes used. Mama Mo frequently wings it on many things with “according to preference” directions; so for our first small projects of the spring (the small extra rooster hutches) we just dumped a cup or two of old pickling lime in a bucket, added water until it was a good consistency, and got to work. When we whitewash the large coops, we will add the salt and be a little more conscientious with amounts used.
We have ordered a large bag of hydrated lime in preparation for more spring cleaning as soon as the weather gets nice again…crazy Alabama weather.

Below is a photo of the dried whitewash interior of the Rooster Hutch. It dries much darker than it looks when it is being applied, so don’t let that discourage you from painting the whole thing!

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Here are several links to great resources regarding whitewashing:

We recommend a quality hydrated lime like First Saturday Lime: A Monthly Organic Pest Barrier – safe for kids, pets, and organic farming.

Wishing you all great spring cleaning success!



Some of the links on Mo’s Mini Farm pages are affiliate links, which means that if you decide to purchase a product through them we will receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you! This helps us to keep the information on the website free of charge and to support our farm adventure. Because we value our integrity in recommending products, we only recommend products we have purchased and used. We may occasionally provide links to a product we are considering or planning to purchase, but we will always be sure to clearly state this fact. For more information about our affiliate relationships please see our Affiliates Disclosure Document.


“Mean” Roosters – Why We Keep Them Anyway

Our experience with aggressive roosters started just two years into our great chicken adventure. We ordered all pullets from a hatchery for our first chickens, but we quickly got the chicken bug and increased our numbers the very next spring with the purchase of our own incubator & fertile eggs. Of course, there is no way to sway the outcome of the sexes that hatch, and we were blessed with multiple roosters. Our Buff Orpington was a sweetheart, and a few FBC Marans were just fine. But, our two splash Ameraucana were feisty boys (aka little feathered turdballs). splash rooster

We began researching how to deal with aggressive roosters. The most common two solutions? (1) show him who’s boss or (2) get rid of him (mostly commonly by eating but rehoming was mentioned). We needed these two boys to breed BBS Ameraucana as we had planned, meaning (2) was not an option. We tried the “show him who’s boss” method which only resulted in making things worse. The dominant rooster drew blood when he flogged Little Mo in the shin, and regularly attacked Papa Mo. He also began to fight with the other rooster, and we ended up having to separate them. At this point, both were misbehaving. Luckily, Mama Mo was usually spared the worst attack attempts – boiling down to mostly just a stand-off with a few block/punts. Finally, we returned to the research of how to handle an aggressive rooster.

After much researching, we found more solid opinions when we began studying rooster behaviors, particularly in relation to a rooster’s position in a flock. A rooster’s job is to steadfastly defend his flock of hens from anything HE perceives as a threat. This can be anything that he thinks will harm him or his flock, but it can also be anything that he feels will challenge his dominance. We also found a wonderful tip from an ole’ timer who pointed out: Act like a rooster (challenging him) and expect to be treated like another rooster. So we set out with a new method…

We began picking him up and carrying him around whenever he challenged us – talking to him gently but firmly and petting him on the back of head to show we meant no harm. This got us to a point where he at least didn’t attack as soon as we opened the gate. We also found that our big clunky rubber boots were a big “No. No.” Even dark-colored pants received a different reaction. Remember, it’s whatever he perceives as a threat. We changed those things, along with always moving slowly and vocally announcing, “It’s just me,” while offering scratch treats. If he seemed to be readying to challenge/flog, Mama Mo always faced him, pointed her finger on his level and said “Behave” in a low, firm voice. Waving things around in the air above them and being loud only serves to agitate and provoke a defense response. It did take a little bit of time, during which time they also matured, but we ended up having two well-behaved roosters in the end.

On the maturing subject, it should also be noted that roosters have hormones just like people, and during their “teen years” as we call it (6 months to 1 year +/-), they are particularly gung-ho to pick a fight. They are young and trying to cement their position in a flock. Keep in mind that, with proper handling, they typically mellow when they feel settled in with their flock and understand your role as caretaker. However, as should be expected, each year when spring gets close and laying & breeding ramps up, we notice even our senior roosters being slightly less laid back toward us. After all, LOVE is in the air. We anticipate this and just give them a little extra room to deal with their short-lived spring fever, but really you should never completely take your eye off a rooster. It is a rooster.

Of course, even though we have not personally had this problem, there are always some that will just never learn to be nice. Those are the ones that you should dispatch to the stock pot (or whatever you prefer). Please don’t sell those types to anyone – even with full disclosure – because they don’t need to be bred, which is sure to happen at least once, even if not planned.

Lastly, our personal opinion on feisty roosters is that, within reason, that is what you want. A rooster’s main job is to protect his flock, and an overly laid-back rooster is not as likely to defend a hen being attacked or even keep his hens in order amongst themselves. We appreciate the role of roosters in our flocks – not only for producing cute little fuzzballs, but also for maintaining a proper balance within the flock. A good rooster will both tidbit (what is “tidbitting”?) and step in to stop hen squabbles and bring harmony to his little flock.

We see posts regularly about what to do with aggressive or mean roosters. We hope sharing our experience will help you learn how to best deal with your roosters productively for a great outcome for all involved.


Some of the links on Mo’s Mini Farm pages are affiliate links, which means that if you decide to purchase a product through them we will receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you! This helps us to keep the information on the website free of charge and to support our farm adventure. Because we value our integrity in recommending products, we only recommend products we have purchased and used. We may occasionally provide links to a product we are considering or planning to purchase, but we will always be sure to clearly state this fact. For more information about our affiliate relationships please see our Affiliates Disclosure Document.


Almost time for Spring Cleaning!

It’s proving slow to arrive, but spring is surely just around the corner. Here at Mo’s Mini Farm in north-central Alabama, we’ve already noticed buds on a few early bloomers. Wonderful thoughts considering it has either rained or been extremely overcast nearly every day for the whole month of February.

Chicken Coop & Brooder Bedding

20151006_172759On our last trip to the farm/feed store, we stocked up on large flake pine shavings in anticipation of cleaning winter out of all the coops. We have found that the large flake pine shavings are the most economical and functional for our needs. We have too many coops and pens to “scoop” often enough for other types of bedding to work well. Straw tends to get too wet here and not dry out fast enough to avoid a moldy mess. Likewise, it seems with our humidity that sand is also not a good option. We tried it several years ago, and it just stayed too wet inside the coop. It does work well for a sandy area in the run where the sun can shine on it, but not inside the coops. Because we have read various opinions and discussed this with other chicken owners in various areas of the country, we feel there are several important factors in choosing the best bedding for your coops:

    1. consider your climate/environment – humid, dry, extreme temperatures, excess rain – when selecting the bedding material that will work best in your area
    2. availability – choose something that you can both acquire and afford regularly
    3. evaluate time requirements – straw or sand may work well if you are able and willing to “scoop” and replace several times a week, but pine may be better if you are more interested in monthly cleanings or even the deep litter method
    4. health of your chickens – always evaluate how your chickens are doing with your bedding choice. Respiratory issues? Impacted crops? Bumble foot?

     

    While we used cedar shavings in our dogs’ houses in the past, we have never used cedar with our chickens since most sources strongly recommend against using it due to the oils that can irritate the skin and respiratory system. Some people say that it smells better, but that aromatic cedar odor can damage a chicken’s more sensitive respiratory system, especially younger birds.

    More recently, we tried aspen shavings in our dogs’ houses because they were having some mild skin irritation, and we had it on hand for using with our rabbits. It worked so much better that we only use it now, and we didn’t hesitate to use it in the brooder when we ran out of pine shavings. 20170517_073442_HDRSimilarly, we now only use aspen in our brooders for at least the first month. It’s much more expensive than pine, but it is the best brooder bedding we have found since it is much drier, has less dust, and absorbs much better than the pine shavings – maybe because the aspen is kiln dried which is nearly impossible to find around here in pine shavings. We feel it’s worth the extra money because we have much cleaner brooders and thus healthier chicks. You can find aspen at most pet stores since it is used with small pets like rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc., but we usually buy our aspen at Tractor Supply (better price there).

    Waterfowl Pen and House Bedding

    Since we are in a generally mild climate, our ducks and geese have little housing. We have a few sheds and houses for them to get in, but they typically prefer staying out in the weather – even when we get a little snow. They free range daily, but during winter, when the overnight pen gets more muddy and cold, we spread wheat straw around the principle sleeping areas to provide a little extra warmth. We have always used the same wheat straw in their shed/houses and nesting houses until this year when we couldn’t readily find it at a reasonable price. This year we opted to use mixed “cow” hay in the houses where it doesn’t get very wet. Hay tends to clump & mold much easier and faster than straw which is why wheat straw has always been our choice. We still used wheat straw in the open pen areas, and the hay worked fairly well in the houses, until the recent deluge of rainy weather…nothing has fared well in this current state of mud.20160606_234852

    For the record, we do not use any bedding material in our duckling or gosling brooders. We use the mesh non-slip liners that can be sprayed off and reused since those babies are so messy! But that’s a post for another day…



Some of the links on Mo’s Mini Farm pages are affiliate links, which means that if you decide to purchase a product through them we will receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you! This helps us to keep the information on the website free of charge and to support our farm adventure. Because we value our integrity in recommending products, we only recommend products we have purchased and used. We may occasionally provide links to a product we are considering or planning to purchase, but we will always be sure to clearly state this fact. For more information about our affiliate relationships please see our Affiliates Disclosure Document.


When illness hits the entire house at the same time…

…the animals still need care. Here are a few tips on how we manage large numbers of poultry with minimal care. Plus, we provide some information about our experiences with using natural methods to treat illness in chickens…we weren’t the only ones sick this week.

This past week, the entire farm-house was down…food poisoning that hit us all within a few hours. Even when we are all attached to the bathroom &/or a trash can for 24+ hours and then moving at half pace for several more days, our 95 chickens, 23 ducks, 6 geese, and 6 guineas still need to be fed, watered, and turned-out/locked-up. Luckily, we had already implemented several ways to help ease the time commitments required to keep up with 10 different coops.20gal

Probably the best poultry accessories that we have to date are our custom-made 20 gallon watering buckets (right). What a lifesaver they were this week!

We have tried a few different kinds of waterers, but none have been as successful in keeping the water clean and the surrounding area dry. We highly recommend using these watering cups for your chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, and other similar poultry. [We do not recommend as the only water source for waterfowl.]

We have also installed several different kinds of feeders in our coops with 10 or more birds. We have installed wall-mounted feeders (below) in two coops with the least floor space which have worked well. They are a little pricey, but worth it for us because they do hold a large amount. 20160903_162155

In our largest coop, we created a custom-built feeder (below) that fit the space and holds a full 50lb bag or more of layer pellet feed. To make sure the feed stays pest and moisture free, we converted a clear Ziploc Weather Shield storage tote into a feeder with a large pvc pipe feed dispenser. We do have to occasionally rake the pellets to the center to fall down the pipe, but it works great overall – sure beats having to haul a heavy feeder to the other side of the lot every 5-6 days! The foam seal around the tote keeps feed fresh and dry long enough for it to be consumed, and it’s easy to tell how much feed is left since it’s clear. We plan to make another similar feeder for another large coop in the coming weeks.

Unfortunately, last Saturday – the day before the house fell to illness – we had just started treating one of our hens in the coop with our oldest birds. Our 5-year-old white Marans, Snowball, was showing some respiratory congestion – very raspy, heavy breathing but no sneezing/coughing or mucus discharge, and quickly we pulled out all the stops in hopes making this a short and isolated problem. Saturday afternoon, Mama Mo applied VetRx to Snowball’s comb & wattles and under both wings. 20160903_162251

We also mixed up a special gallon of “medicated” water. We have had great success with Durvet’s DuraStat (right), a water-soluble combination of natural herbs like oregano. We normally don’t keep water inside the coop, but when we treat with the DuraStat, we leave it in the coop overnight – a good dose first thing in the morning seems to work quite well.

Additionally, late Saturday night, Mama Mo dosed Snowball with our own custom natural oils blend (below), and it’s a really good thing because this was the only treatments she received before we were all down for the count! We are happy to report that by the time we were able to get back out there to do more than open/close a coop door, she was fine.

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How do you handle being down and not able to take care of your livestock? We’d love to hear ways that help you get through the rough times.

Also, do you use natural methods to treat your chickens when they are ill? Tell us about your experiences!



Some of the links on Mo’s Mini Farm pages are affiliate links, which means that if you decide to purchase a product through them we will receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you! This helps us to keep the information on the website free of charge and to support our farm adventure. Because we value our integrity in recommending products, we only recommend products we have purchased and used. We may occasionally provide links to a product we are considering or planning to purchase, but we will always be sure to clearly state this fact. For more information about our affiliate relationships please see our Affiliates Disclosure Document.


Olive Eggers: Breeding for Olive Eggs

This is a follow-up post to our previous post Easter Eggers: Understanding Egg Color Genetics

You may need to review that post before reading this one.  Read More

Easter Eggers: Understanding Egg Color Genetics

Unusual colored eggs have become quite popular among backyard chicken keepers. There have been many a debate about the differences between pure blue-egg-laying breeds and the much more common Easter Egger chicken. Pure breeds such as the Ameraucana or Araucana have a specific Standard of Perfection (SOP) that is accepted by the American Poultry Assoc (APA) &/or American Bantam Assoc (ABA). The SOP is a very specific list of defined variations within the breed that must not only be present in the bird but also breed true (show consistently in the subsequent offspring) in order to consider the bird to be a pure breed. On the other hand, Easter Egger (EE) chickens are not a breed at all; they are actually a hybrid or crossbred offspring from a bird that carries a blue egg gene. All of this aside, the steps for creating an EE that lays green/blue eggs are not overly complicated. Below is a condensed explanation of breeding EasterEggers.
[Note: this is intended to be a quick guide & does not cover all details of genetics]

Genetic basics:

  • Every genetic trait is produced from a pair of genes, and in reproduction each offspring receives one gene from each parent to create a pair for its genetic traits.
  • If a chicken is homozygous, it carries the same two genes for a specific trait; heterozygous means it carries two different genes for a specific trait.
  • Some genes are dominant, meaning the dominant gene will mask any other genes present (recessive).
  • There are also other factors like alleles, modifiers and inhibitors that affect the genes for specific traits.
  • There are only two genetically determined egg colors: white and blue. The blue egg gene is dominant.
  • Brown eggs are produced by an allele that produces a brown coating over a white egg. Thus, green eggs come from a brown coating over a blue egg.
  • The allele for brown eggs is dominant, meaning if it is passed to offspring it will mask other genes, alleles, and modifiers.

Pure Ameraucana (and some other breeds) are homozygous for blue eggs (O/O). This means that all offspring from a pure Ameraucana will receive at least one blue egg gene, and since that is a dominant gene, the eggs produced will be blue.

Regular brown egg layers are homozygous for white eggs (o/o) and carry the brown shell-coating allele. [designated here by o/o]

Crossing chickens carrying the above genes results in the following possibilities:

F1 EE

O/o = a genetically blue egg because the O is dominant
But, don’t forget to add the dominant allele for the brown eggshell coating, now you have a green egg!

Now, what happens if you breed a 1st generation* (F1) EE to another brown egg layer?

*Must be a first generation (F1) EE to ensure it carries the O/o genetics!!

Crossing an F1 EE (green egg layer) with a brown egg layer results in the following possibilities:

F2 EE

And what happens if you breed two 1st generation* EE’s to each other?

*Again, this must be first generation EE to ensure they both carry O/o genetics!!

Crossing an F1 EE to an F1 EE results in the following possibilities:

EEtoEE

Don’t forget to add in the dominant brown eggshell allele, and most of the eggs will result in shades of green or some will be brown. However, occasionally the brown eggshell allele will not be passed (or will be effected by an inhibitor, modifier, or other allele), and the results will be a nice blue egg or less commonly a white egg.

As you can see, past the first generation (F1) breeding, the genetic combination possibilities increase and become more difficult to determine exactly what genes are involved, especially in roosters that do not lay eggs. Additionally, using a non-pure breed (chickens of which you do not know the exact genetic make-up) can introduce recessive genes or genetic inhibitors that might not be obvious on the parent, but will affect the outcome of the offspring.

Note: White egg layer genes, while not dominant, typically act as an inhibitor to dilute any other egg color genes. We bred a 1st generation OliveEgger to a Leghorn, and the result was a pale olive colored egg layer.

Additionally, it should be noted that many EE’s are difficult to differentiate from a pure Ameraucana breed. Since the muff/beard genes are dominant, many EE’s will carry these genes. The gene for the pea comb is located very near the blue egg gene, and is often passed with the blue egg gene. However, while pea combs often indicate the presence of the blue egg gene, it is not guaranteed, and it also does not indicate homozygous or heterozygous genetics. For a reason that we have not studied, EE’s very often have green legs which is a good indicator of non-pure-breed genetics as the pure blue-egg breeds do not have green legs. It is extremely important to know the genetics of the parent birds in order to use the information provided here. If not starting with pure genetics, then the bird could carry any number of genetic factors that will change the outcomes – even pure birds can occasionally have some genetic faults that pop-up unexpectedly.

For your reference:
Unscrambling the genetics of the chicken’s ‘blue’ egg: Researchers have unscrambled the genetic mutation that gives the distinctive blue eggs laid by some breeds of chickens.

Find A Blue Chicken Egg? Congrats, Your Chicken Has A Virus: A new study found that a single gene, called callee oocyan, is responsible for the odd coloration of these blue chicken eggs.

Genetics Mini Series 1: Genetics of Egg Color

Genetics Mini Series 2: Breeding for Blue Eggs

Genetics Mini Series 3: Breeding For Other Egg Colors

ALL ABOUT EGG COLOR: Have you ever wondered what makes blue eggs blue or why a green egg layer might hatch from a blue or brown egg? Did you know that brown eggs are coated with a “paint” made from blood, and blue egg shells contain a chemical byproduct of bile? Read on to find out the science behind egg color.

 

Do you keep a running egg inventory?

We have multiple coops on our “mini” farm – 6 large coops and 3 smaller hutches to be exact! As part of our farm records, we began keeping a running inventory of eggs this past year. Knowing which coops are producing best can be advantageous in many ways. Good egg production indicates which layers are in best condition for performing at top levels. Most importantly, a drop in egg production can indicate many things that need to be addressed – notably illness or other problems like improper nutrition, an egg-eating problem, or even an egg-eating predator visiting your coops. When things on the farm get busy, it can be easy to not notice a drop in egg production in time to address an issue before it becomes a larger problem. Keeping an egg inventory is an easy way to prevent this. We simply created a monthly chart in MS Word, and we log how many eggs are collected from each coop every evening.

Unfortunately, collecting eggs from nine different sets of nesting boxes and remembering which came from which proved to be a daunting task. We likely had a few errors in our inventory counts. Since we are planning to focus primarily on egg production in 2018, we are hoping to establish a better method of organized egg collection. Mama Mo has searched for a basket or rigid bag with multiple compartments to be labeled for each coop, but apparently, that is not a common item for anyone. However, there may be an unusual solution to our dilemma.

Wash Boss by Bucket Boss

Mama Mo found an item called a Wash Boss – it’s an organizer that straps onto a 5-gallon bucket. The six pockets should be large enough to hold multiple eggs, and since it’s made for getting wet, cleaning should be easy. Of course, that still leaves us a few compartments short to be able to collect from all the coops, so we plan to also use another item called a Super Stacker (below) that fits inside the bucket.

Super Stacker by Bucket Boss

They are made to stack inside the bucket, but our plan is to put our custom herbal nest box mix in the bucket and put the divider on top. This way we can also refresh nest boxes as we go, if needed. Nothing beats consolidating chores!

We have all of our coops named, so it will be easy to label each compartment and know exactly which eggs came from which coops, especially when spring arrives and everyone is in full egg production mode. When we get it all put together and test it out, we’ll post about the pros and cons of our little “innovation”.

Do you date your eggs?

We do not refrigerate the farm fresh eggs, so at times – especially in spring – we have cartons and cartons of eggs sitting on the counters. To reduce the risk of accidentally sending old eggs to extended family or friends, we date our eggs each night after collecting them. Reusing cartons and consolidating eggs into fewer cartons cannot be done if you date the cartons, which means each individual egg must be dated. We started dating with a charcoal pencil which was easy enough, but when you collect 2-3 dozen, or more, eggs a night that can be quit time-consuming. Mama Mo began searching for alternatives…

20160907_230332
Simple office item makes poultry farming so much easier!

An easy and inexpensive solution was found through Amazon! A regular office date stamp with the year slot set to blank works great. We were concerned with stamping ink on the eggs, so we found an edible ink* to use and ensure food safety. The ink was a little pricey ($20 for a 4 oz bottle), but it lasts a long time in the un-inked pad that we bought. We’ve only re-inked it about 3 times in 1 1/2 years.  The stamp and pad were well under $10, so we spent less than $30.00 to tremendously speed up evening chores. You can have 2-3 dozen eggs individually dated in less than 5 minutes. Well worth it! Plus, the ink does not smudge or wipe off like the charcoal pencil did. In fact, we wash our eggs with lukewarm water right before use, and unless we scrub, it doesn’t even wash off then.

*Unfortunately, that particular ink is no longer available on Amazon, but there are numerous other edible inks for around the same price or maybe less.

2018 Marks a Decade of Chicken Keeping for Our Mini Farm

In the spring of 2008, we embarked on an adventure. After minimal researching (there wasn’t a lot of information available for backyard chickens at that time), we placed our order for 14 pullets from a commercial hatchery. The goal was to produce our very own farm fresh eggs for our farm family of four and maybe for our extended family when quantity permitted. Everything we read said to prepare for losing some chicks before they reached adulthood, so we ordered more than needed with the expectation that we would lose a few, especially with our limited experience in raising chickens. Cut to three years later, and we lost our first chicken – a heavy breed Brahma who succumbed to our horrible Alabama heat wave that summer. With the growing interest in chicken keeping and constant research, we have since been able to find more information, better ideas & products, and share & glean great ideas & tips from many others. Here’s an example, Brahmas are a heavy breed bird with a lot of feathers from head to toe (literally), and while adorable in appearance are not really the best suited for our humid, hot weather. We would not have chosen them had we found this information early in our adventure. However, we have treated this adventure as a never-ending learning curve, and we have been fortunate enough to learn a lot…evidenced by the fact that we still have three of our original hens (we did also sell three to a friend years ago).

Buff Cochin

Blondie, our Buff Cochin, from our original order of chicks in 2008.

They are showing their age, but if this winter is kind enough, they will be 10 years old this spring. They are in a mixed flock of 12 with varying ages and breeds, making it difficult to know positively if they still lay any eggs. However, when the chicken bug bites, it’s bad…We get plenty of eggs not only from the younger ones in that flock, but from any of the 60+ other layers we now have!

We quickly began growing our chicken count…hatching and breeding the following year, 2009, after purchasing an incubator and hatching eggs…and, of course, more chicks. We planned to grow our mini farm into a mini hatchery of specialty breeds like Ameraucana and Marans to offer breeds that would create a colorful egg basket. Now, ten years later, we are considering a change of goals. It is difficult to hatch out a lot of chicks with the hopes of selling them all, and collecting hatching eggs for incubating or selling really cuts into the amount of eating eggs. In 2018, we are planning to focus more on selling farm fresh eggs to interested buyers. We will still hatch some chicks, sell some birds/chicks, and collect/sell hatching eggs, but it will not be our primary focus. We hope this will better supplement our feed expenses, and allow us to reorganize our flocks to larger mixed flocks able to free range more often – hopefully daily. You can’t get tastier eggs than free range farm fresh eggs!

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