Thank You!

A big thank you to Ms. Hutchins of Ft. White for donating a pair of White Wyandotte Bantams to the Columbia County 4-H Poultry Club! My club looks forward to working with Mr. and Mrs. Banty!

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Mr. Banty

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Mrs. Banty (she cray-cray)

Wyandottes were developed in the US as a dual-purpose breed in 1870s. Though they are said to be slow to start laying we hope to get some eggs from Mrs. Banty soon ūüôā
These are beautiful birds and the kids look forward to training them.
Keep warm!
~KC

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On Predators

Humans like chickens. Originally this was because they tasted good, laid eggs, and didn’t require a lot of maintenance. We still like them for these reasons, but now a lot of people keep them as pets too. The problem is humans aren’t the only ones that like chickens (or birds in general). Here’s a list of predators and the signs that one is operating in your area.

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-Dogs-A stray dog will often grab chickens (or any other livestock for that matter) and can cause hundreds of dollars of damage. Dogs are often pleasure killers and won’t stop with just one animal. Be aware that (in Florida) it is within your rights to shoot dogs that are endangering yourself or your livestock. By the same token be sure to keep your own dogs in the yard, they could be terrorizing someone else’s flock and you would never know it.
Mode of killing: multiple and messy. A LOT of feathers and many injured/dead birds. Dogs tend to grab at the animals throat and wings, and sometimes will flip a bird over to get at their underside. If you have a hutch, the dog may go after the bird’s toes.

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-Cats- All sizes of cats (wild and tame) will stalk small livestock. I personally have had to deal with a Bobcat in the past, not fun. You usually won’t notice if a cat is in your area until birds start disappearing without a trace.
Mode of killing- Day or night. Silent, clean, probably no feathers. The bird just doesn’t return home. There’s no carcass because the cat has dragged it away and hid it.

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-Raccoon/Possum- Similar methods to one another. Hall marks of an attack is that they will pull animals (or parts of animals) through relatively small wire. Coons are more likely to kill multiple birds, while possums tend to wander through ever few days and pick birds off one by one. Can be extremely messy if the bird gets pulled through wire. If the animal can’t get the whole bird through it will pull off any limb it can grab. Mode of Killing: Nighttime, pulling birds through wire, killing birds and only eating part.

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Images courtesy of Google

Flying Predators-(hawks, eagles, owls)- flying predators can be a pain. Unlike land based predators, fences don’t keep birds of prey out; which means that if you have one after your flock you need extra precautions. These include bird scarers, roofing your pen, and allow only supervised free ranging.
Mode of Killing: Daylight (for hawks and eagles), night (owls). You may find a ring of feathers (if they can’t carry the chicken off) or nothing at all. If the hawk can’t carry the carcass off you may walk up on it by accident. I had a hawk after my hens once that came every morning around 6:30 am. This particular hawk was frustrating because it only came when I wasn’t watching the coop.

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Images courtesy of Google

Predators can be frustrating because many times you don’t have clue to what is actually taking your birds. A good way to solve the mystery is to get a cheap trail cam. Even if you don’t currently have something taking hens it’s always nice to know who’s poking around your coop at night. Another option is to invest in a motion sensing light. All of these are optional and it all depends on how much you want to spend.

This is in no way a comprehensive list of poultry predators in Florida. Hopefully you’ll never have to deal with predators but you’ll probably be pestered at some point. Do your research, check with fish and game, and build a coop your birds can be safe in.
Good luck,
~KC

Summer

As summer closes I’m overwhelmed by how fast it went. Like most people I have a few of those often clich√© regrets of not getting everything done I wanted to, but that’s just a fact of life. On the other hand a lot of things have happened on the farm, here’s a rundown:

Good thing: I found someone with a registered Nigerian Buck, and the girls are going to see him next month. I’m going to use a estrous synchronization program on them to have them all be ready at once. I heard good things about this particular system, however it seems that in trials it had around a 75% success rate so the jury’s still out. I’ll report on it’s efficiency when I start.

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Mango: photo bomber extraordinaire

Bad thing: Blondie may not be going with the others. She developed a sore on the skin between her anus and her vulva and though I’ve been treating it, the recovery is going very slowly. It seems to be rather painful to her and I don’t want to breed her if it continues to be stubborn.

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Blondie is not pleased with being treated

Good thing: I added a new goose to the flock. She’s a brown Chinese (I think) and a little skittish. She hasn’t offered to bite anyone yet and seems to have a gentle disposition (which I find rare in adult geese purchased from another owner). She’s adjusting well though and even dares to eat from our hands occasionally.

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Doink!

Bad thing: we lost two geese ( three ducks, and four chickens). Our little Tufted Roman goose started wasting away suddenly, despite treatment (extra food, nutrient drench, etc.) she passed away. My sister’s Runner Drake developed extremely bad corns on his feet and could no longer walk. We discovered his feet were being attacked by ants due to him being immobile for so long. He declined from there. The others were grabbed by a nighttime predator and pulled through the wire of their pens. This method is an indicator of raccoon or possum activity both of which will do this. (Bonus good news: We caught a possum near the coop, so one down, many to go)

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Corns healing on a ducks foot

Good thing(s): piggies! Around June we had trapped some domestic pigs that had gone feral, we ended up with three (one female and two males). They look to be a small pinewoods x potbelly, the female (who’s the oldest) only weighed 54 lbs when we got her. Now these are not pets, these are mean little suckers that have run wild for most of their lives. Only the youngest male is interested in even approaching us and that’s only when there’s feed to be had. We suspect since they are a Potbelly cross that they were older than we thought (Pots can apparently conceive as young as 3 months). After confirming our suspicions as to the heritage of the hogs I began to wonder if the female was pregnant. The herd she came from had several intact adult males running with it and 1 1/2 months after we got her she weighed 75 lbs. Now I would love to attribute that to our feeding program but I highly doubted it. More than 20 lbs in a month and a half? Something was up. Then yesterday when my sister went to feed up she found a surprise waiting, actually five surprises.

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Piggies! (We have no idea were all the red came from)

Bad thing: The sow (momma pig) is mean as all get out. She tried to eat my brother the last time we weighed her and absolutely refuses to come near her food bowl until all humans have cleared the area. She will probably end up as bacon unfortunately, but we sure aren’t going to let her go feral again.

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Ms. Maverick isn’t falling for your tricks human!

All in all it’s been an ok summer. I passed my summer course at UF with an “A”, my little brother starts college this fall, and I’m expanding my farm slowly but surely. Lots of posts soon!
See ya!
KC

The Old Bamboo

If there is one resource that my family has, it’s bamboo. Not just a couple of canes, not just a couple of clumps, but enough that we could exclusively feed a Panda for about six months. With my waterfowl flock quickly outgrowing the chicken coop it was time to do something with all this free building material.

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The Flock says “FEED ME”

When I was about seven my parents decided to plant bamboo. After selecting about seven varieties from a local botanical garden, they planted about 15 clumps. Three clumping types and four running types. In fourteen years the clumpers haven’t done much, but the runners have all but taken over our yard in the name of bamboo freedom everywhere.

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Our rainforest

Recently our efforts have turned to eradicating it from certain parts of our yard in an attempt to use at least some of the 2.5 acres for something other than rainforest. (Seriously, the stuff is a wildlife sanctuary unto itself. Unfortunately if we don’t clear it periodically, there isn’t any room for us) Clearing bamboo usually involves my brothers, a reciprocating saw, about 20 saw blades, a couple of machetes, and a lot of manual labor. Needless to say we always end up with a ton of cut bamboo and nothing to do with it. Usually we burn it, (interestingly burning bamboo, thanks to the chambered canes, explodes with a almost gunshot like intensity, making it sound like the Mafia is shooting up our yard on an annual basis) but this year I decided to use some of it for fencing.

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The yearly bamboo pile

One of my favorite farm reference books is ‘The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency’ by John Seymour. (You can find older versions in PDF form online for free) Though it doesn’t go in to great detail, it is still a good primer for a starting farmer (bonus points for being free). In the section on fencing it describes Wattle-hurdles, portable woven wood fence used to keep in non jumping livestock. The author is British, so he suggests making them from willow or ash but since those trees don’t grow in my area I decided to use bamboo. The result did not look a lot like the pictures but it works very well for my birds.

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Wattle-hurdles

Since I wanted the fence about 2 1/2 feet high, I cut about 30. stakes at about 4 1/2 feet. The area I was fencing was about 75′ x 50′ but two sides were already fenced so I only needed enough stakes to fence the other two sides. I used a hammer (and a piece of 2×4 to distribute the hammer strike so the bamboo wouldn’t spilt) to pound the stakes into the ground. I spaced the stakes about 5′ apart. It took awhile and quite a few blister to finish but I think it looks pretty good.

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A tufted Roman goose looking over her new fence

This fence was relatively easy to make and only cost the labor to cut the bamboo and build the fence. If you have a large stand of Mimosa Trees (an invasive species) it would work too. Any kind of long flexible wood would work really.

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A Mimosa tree

Knowing that I just saved myself about $150 in fencing is a pretty good feeling, knowing that that money can go to medical supplies or feed is even better. Now I need to finish fencing in the new goat pen so the girls have more room.

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Maaa, find us a boyfriend!(or corn, we’re not picky)

See ya! ~Kc

Canines and Chickens

Fact: My dogs will eat anything you put in front of them.
However, I have been extremely fortunate that none (except one) have shown any fowl killing tendencies. The one that did is a 3 month old puppy that ate two of our Buff Orpington chicks, and that was our fault. Being hounds our dogs will occasionally chase the birds (Baxter, our Beagle/Lab mix, in particular loves the noise the Peacocks make when chased up on our roof) , but no one has descended to eating chickens yet. We have a couple egg eaters, but no chronic chicken killers.

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Unfortunately this was not always the case. Before Baxter we had a full blooded Chocolate Lab that ignored the chickens and geese but went after everything else. Turkeys, ducks, and guineas, he would run down with no remorse. While he was alive we gave up on trying to raise these animals as sooner or later it lead to their untimely demise. Near the end of his time with us he had started to learn to live with the birds but he passed away before that happened. Another dog we had in the past was a Jack Russell, she was the opposite. She had eyes only for the chickens and her greatest joy was chasing them down and ripping out their feathers. However she turned out to be teachable as she eventually learned to leave the birds alone. Our current dogs tend to ignore the birds (except for the occasional Peacock chase) and haven’t (yet) done any lasting harm.

Here are some rules for introducing your dog to new birds (the same could apply to cats as well but fortunately we’ve never had trouble with our cats before. They seem singularly uninterested).

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Birdy and a Buff Orpington

Always supervise your pet when they’re around new birds, especially if it’s a species that’s new to them. Continue to supervise for at least a month if not more. Baxter didn’t discover that the Peacocks made funny noises until several months after they were introduced.

Never assume that your pet will ignore the new arrivals. A family member assumed that since the older dogs ignored the chicks the puppy would too, this was not the case. We lost 2 chicks before we noticed that the puppy had discovered that day old chicks are tasty.

If your pet discovers that they like to eat your birds there are three options:

  • Train your pet to leave the birds alone (this is time consuming and there is no sure fire way to do it, each animal is different and responds to a method differently. However it is very rewarding though when your barnyard is peaceful).
  • Keep your pet or your birds penned when your not around to supervise (I did this with my waterfowl for a while)
  • Most drastically you could find new homes for the birds or your pet. I would only do this if the dog proves to be an unrepentant bird killer.

Keep the above in mind when introducing new birds to a dog or a new dog to your birds. The dog usually is easily dissuaded from future conflict and the smarter birds usually learn to steer clear of the dog. ¬†Keep an eye on them though, you can’t predict what will happen. With any luck both your flock and your pet will be healthy and happy.

Happy Keeping!

~Kc

Fabulous Fowl: Choosing the Right Breed for Your Small Farm

So you want chickens. Visions of fluffy babies peck around¬†in your minds eye and you can almost taste those home grown omelets. There’s one dilemma though, what breed do you want? Ask any person who’s raised chickens and they’ll tell you their favorite breed, each one will be different. The American Poultry Association (APA) recognizes over 120 bantam and standard sized breeds in various colors and patterns, not to mention the experimental and regional breeds not recognized by the APA. With this in mind trying to chose a particular breed is daunting. Some solve this problem by ordering a hatchery special with a mix of as many types as possible, others do some research and only order one, still others just end up getting what the local feed-store offers. I’ve done all three routes and all three have their merits, but it still comes down to what you want in the first place.

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Brown Egg Layers Assortment from Murray McMurray Hatchery (Pic from Their Site)

There are 4 basic breed types: Egg Production, Meat Production, Dual Purpose, and Show. Egg production breeds are skinny, high energy, nervous birds. The main breed used is the White Leghorn, they put all their energy into eggs and are not good for eating. They only come in white so their rather boring to look at and due to temperament are hard to work with.

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White Leghorn (Courtesy of  California Hatchery)

Meat production breeds are big on muscle and short on brains. They are laid back birds that love to eat as much as possible and grow very quickly. The main breed used in commercial Broiler production is the Cornish x Rock Hybrid. They are also white (most production breeds are white).

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Cornish x Rock (Courtesy of Gail Damerow)

Dual purpose breeds are what I mainly keep. These include the Rhode Island Red, Black Austrolorp, Buff Orpington, and Ameraucana¬†to name a few. They don’t produce as many eggs as a production layer and aren’t as fat as a Broiler breed but are a good mix of the two. They are usually hardier than a production breed and will go forage for themselves if you let them. They come in many colors and personalities.

 

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My Ameraucana hen (she lays green eggs)

Show breeds are mainly fancy chickens. These are your Polish, Game Bantams, Silkies, Sultans, d’Uccle and many others. These breeds are mainly to look at. A lot of them are Bantam breeds and are not good for meat or eggs. They are flighty and nervous but wonderful setters and mothers (Silkies are especially famous for their ability to brood just about any type of egg)

 
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My sister’s crazy Black Laced Polish Roo

As always research the breed before you buy. If you don’t you may end up with something you don’t like. For example, if you don’t like a lot of crowing you probably don’t want to end up with a Tomaru rooster (They’re famous for their long and constant crowing). The Backyard Chickens website has a rating system for users to rate and leave comments about about breeds that the posters own. Have fun, if you have trouble choosing get an assortment. It may take a while but sooner or later you’ll find a breed just right for you.

~Kc

Duck Duck Goose

Waterfowl are and most likely always will be my favorite birds. Yes chickens are cool, yes turkeys  have some merit, and guinea fowl and peafowl are always fun to watch. But waterfowl, specifically  Geese (and some Ducks) are my absolute favorites. They were among the first fowl I bought with my own money as a child and they will always have a place on my farm.

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Duke (my Pekin drake) and co. Saying “FEED ME WOMAN!”

 

My Pekin duck is quite happy to supply me with eggs, so four weeks ago I set Duchess’s first clutch in my incubator. There were six, two of which turned out to be infertile and one that died approximately 3-4 days before hatch. The other three hatched the day before Easter. They’re about the tiniest ducklings you can imagine. Most ducks are bought at about a week old and are quite a bit larger by then.

 

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Teeny Tiny Duckies

Waterfowl, despite a stigma of being bad tempered, can be great pets and wonderful watchdogs. One thing you don’t find enough when people raise waterfowl is socialization. I’ve noticed a trend when I buy adults rather than ducklings and goslings that the bought adults are more suspicious and aggressive than the adults I’ve raised myself. ¬†The best way to deal with aggression is to prevent it. When you bring your waterfowl home (especially with goslings, ducklings not so much) spend time with them. Goslings imprint on their parents and a when you ¬†are the one raising them you become the parent. ¬†Talk to them, let them nibble your clothing, the very young ones may try to burrow under your clothing, let them. Do this at least 4 times a week if not every day. Once geese associate you as a flock member at a very young age they will remember for the rest of their lives. The same goes for if the gosling had a bad experience when it was young. My Brown Chinese gander was badly injured by some puppies when he was about a week old. The puppies were just trying to play but they ended up ripping a hole in his neck a couple of inches wide, which for a week old gosling is a pretty big deal. To this day he hates dogs and will hiss and go out of his way to bully them if they come near.

 

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Grey the Gander at 4 weeks

Going back to baby waterfowl in general though, here’s a few things you should know:

  • Set up a brooder like for chicks but under no circumstances allow access to open water. Baby waterfowl do not have the waterproofing oil in their feathers yet. Ducks (especially) and goslings love to play in water and will not come out unless you make them. If they were with their parents the parents would limit the access to water and have some of the mother’s waterproofing rubbed on the babies. Supervise the babies when they’re in water and make sure they’re dry afterwards. They should be fine with full access to water by 6 weeks when they start to feather out.
  • Waterfowl poop,¬†a lot.¬†The average duck poops every 15-20 minutes, the average goose every 12. An adult goose is capable of producing 2 lbs of ¬†droppings a day. Keep this in mind when setting up a brooder. The babies are fine in a normal brooder for about 1-2 weeks but after that production outpaces the sanitation. A rabbit hutch with a very ¬†small gauge wire floor set up a bit from the ground works well for young waterfowl.
  • Warmth. Ducklings and goslings feather out much quicker and require much less brooding than baby chickens. ¬†Start them at about 90¬į F and decrease by 5¬į-10¬į Each week until you reach outside temperature, after that they don’t require anymore heat. Use the birds reactions as a guide to where you should have the light. If it’s at 90¬į and they’re panting and trying to get away from the heat, you need to raise the light.

 

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Peeps at a recent photo shoot

Raising waterfowl is a unique and rewarding experience. Well socialized birds (geese and ducks) will come up and “talk” to you when ever you’re in the yard, honk and quack when somebody they don’t know is there, and produce a lot of eggs perfect for baking (not to mention meat and feathers). ¬†I hope that this something you’ll consider in the future.

Have fun!

-Kc