Silkies For Sale

Strengthen Your Chicken’s Egg Shells With the Shell of an Oyster

20180515_123422-1Hens work hard to provide us with their daily eggs.  Making egg shells takes a lot of calcium.  The more eggs they lay, the more calcium they need.  If a hen doesn’t get enough in her diet, her body will steal calcium from her bones to make the egg shell.  This leaves her bones very brittle. You may think of Osteoporosis which women sometimes get as they age.  Hens often have that same problem.

The egg shell that a hen lays is 95% calcium by weight.  In one year the amount of calcium put into her shells can equal 20 times the amount of calcium that is contained in her bones. In order to stay healthy  and create strong egg shells, she needs to consume a large amount of calcium in steady intervals.

The most recognizable sign of calcium deficiency is thin shelled eggs or even eggs laid without a shell .  Lack of calcium in the diet can also lead to soft  shell eggs which look rubbery.  This can also lead to egg binding which can be fatal in hens.  Rough spots and wrinkles on the shells are another sign of low calcium.  The egg shells should look hard and smooth.

Ground oyster shell is the most common supplement to increase the amount of calcium in a hen’s diet. Oyster shell is inexpensive and lasts a long time. It does not spoil or go bad. Oyster shell is eaten by hens and the shell dissolves in the gut.  It is not the same thing as grit.  Grit aids digestion by grinding up food in the crop.  Oyster shell has nothing to do with digestion.  It also does not stimulate egg laying. It simply provides the mineral calcium to the hen.

To lay well, a hen needs 16% crude protein .  Most grains range 7-12% protein and are low in certain essential amino acids.  High amounts of protein can contribute to more frequent ovulation in a hen. Make sure that you are giving your hens a balanced feed with the correct nutrients and protein. Most of their food should come from a nutritionally balanced food. If you give them treats or let them free range you can be upsetting this balance.

Most hens start to lay at about 20 weeks.  Wait until the hen has actually laid an egg to begin giving them oyster shell supplement.  Giving it too early can damage the young pullet’s kidneys. Oyster shell should be given free choice in a separate bowl so they can eat as much as their body needs.  Laying hens who aren’t getting enough calcium can produce weak or irregularly shaped eggs.  This issue can also cause slow laying or even problems like egg eating because they are so desperate for the calcium they need.

How much calcium a hen needs is an individual issue and all hens are different. Some breeds lay eggs every single day. Other breeds take more time off, such as silkies.  The hen’s bodies will prompt them to eat the oyster shell as they need it. If you don’t see them eating it, they may not need it

Do not mix the oyster shell into the food.  This can force them to eat too much calcium which can damage their kidneys.  Feed it to them in a separate bowl or even scatter it on the ground.  Some commercial feeds contain calcium, but it is often not enough for typical layers, especially if they have access to table scrapes and treats.

In order for the hen to be able to absorb the calcium, two  nutrients seem to affect it the most. These nutrients are Phosphorus and vitamin D3.  Phosphorus is easily found in grains. D3 come from sunshine so you want to make sure that your hens have exposure to sunlight.  Powdered vitamins added to the water will help with this.

I have found oyster shell to come in many different sizes.  Some pieces are so large they can barely swallow it,  down to basically nothing but powder. The ideal particles size of supplemental calcium ranges between 2 mm and 5 mm.  Larger pieces of calcium carbonate take longer to digest than smaller particles and are more desirable.  Hens seek out large particles of oyster shell late in the day before the period of shell formation occurs.  Shell formation usually occurs during the night.  Too much calcium will give the eggs an extra coating of powdery calcium around the entire egg or you will see calcium deposits around the shell.

Hens do best when fed a balanced crumble or pelleted diet, especially an all-flock diet with oyster shell in a separate bowl on the side.  Meat birds should be given a separate feed.  Birds that eat other things besides their layer food such as free range foragers or birds that get extra treats need the extra calcium from oyster shell.

Oyster shell is not for pullets that haven’t started laying eggs yet. Wait until they actually start laying eggs to give them the extra calcium.  Chickens who are not laying will get enough calcium in their daily feed for normal calcium use.  When they are laying they need four times as much calcium as a non laying hen.  Giving additional calcium to chickens who are not layers is detrimental to their health. This would include roosters, cockerels,  and older hens no longer laying.

Oyster shell should never be mixed with the food.  Just leave it out in a separate bowl.  They will instinctively know to take it when they need it.  Do make it available all year round.  If they aren’t laying as much in the winter, they will just lower their intake of it.

There are other forms of calcium you can use. Limestone is a rock that contains calcium. If you live in an area with limestone gravel they may naturally pick some up.  Some people save egg shells and offer these back to the hens.  Remember that a hen’s own shells will not provide enough calcium if she doesn’t have other supplements.  Bake the shells first in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes to kill any bacteria that may be present.  Crush them finely so that they do not look like egg shell, otherwise you are teaching the hens to eat their own eggs.

For more tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our weekly silkie blog at VJPPoultry.com.  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria Peterson

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Silkies For Sale – 5/1/18

Pecking Order and Who Rules the Roost

20180429_133813-1If someone says that they “rule the roost” at their house you may wonder where that term came from.  The top chicken gets the best place on the roosting bar at night as part of a complex hierarchy commonly called “the pecking order.”  The pecking order has an influence on feeding, drinking egg laying, roosting, crowing, mating and even dust bathing.

Chickens are a social animal and enjoy the company of their flock mates. Chickens will become lonely for others of their own kind if they are deprived of them. However, the pecking order is anything but gentle and chickens are very aware of their own place in that order.

Everyone knows their place in the pecking order so when a new chicken is introduced, problems arise until the pecking order is reestablished  again.  Pecking order rank determines the order in which chickens are allowed access to food, water and sleeping spot.

The top chicken is usually the strongest and healthiest.  It is their responsibility to protect and take care of the flock, keeping it safe from predators and mitigating disputes between lower members.

The pecking order is a sort of cooperation between members of the flock. It ensures the survival of the flock by giving the best chances to the fittest birds. Unless a member of the flock is removed or added, the pecking order will remain the same for a long time.  However, it is a fluid thing and is never permanent. The younger will always challenge the older.

A flock of chickens who were hatched and raised together establishes a pecking order early on.  Pullets and cockerels that grow up together will play games of running and bumping chest together.  The strongest one is usually chasing a weaker one around the food dish.  Serious games of pecking order start at around six weeks.

The most dominant bird will be the rooster if you have one in your flock.  The lowest bird will be the meekest and the gentlest. Older birds will be dominant over younger ones until the younger ones start challenging them.

Gender has a lot to do with what the pecking order looks like.  If you do not have a rooster in your flock, then the strongest hen will take this spot. It will usually go roosters, hens, cockerels and pullets at the bottom. The order is established by pecking, chasing, blocking from food and water and sometimes violent fighting.  If there are several aggressive birds fighting for that top position there can be blood shed.

Pecking order positions are fixed when one flock member confronts another.  The weaker will back down and become lower in position than the stronger one.  Do not try and interfere unless bleeding is occurring.  They need to work it out themselves.

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Flaring hackle feathers with a lowered head is one form of intimidation.  Loud wing flapping with the head held high and the chest puffed out is another form of letting everyone know who is the boss. They may also use the wing dance to challenge one another.  The dominant bird will come up sideways to the other bird. Then he will lower his outer wing and dance in a half circle around the other chicken.  If the other chicken walks away, the dancer is now higher than the other bird in the pecking order.

Roosters who copulate with hens throughout the day are asserting their dominance over the other roosters who are not allowed to. Roosters who are lower in the flock crow less and rarely mate.  They only get a chance to when the other rooster is not around.

Alpha roosters will crow to signal their dominance to the other chickens.  Roosters who are the flock leaders will look out for the hens by watching for predators, finding them treats, mating and chasing other roosters away from their group of hens.

Hens who are at the top tend to be fearless and boisterous.  Hens high in the pecking order will chase other hens out of the nesting boxes.  Chickens high in the order get to eat more and have a better spot in choosing where they will roost.  Weaker hens have to wait to drink or eat and will often be pushed away by others. If one of the low ranked chickens tries to feed before their leaders, they may get a nasty jab or peck to teach them a lesson. If a bird tries to go out of turn, she will earn glares, pecks and feather pulling from higher ranked hens.

Establishing a pecking order can take anywhere from two days or up to two weeks.  Once everyone knows their position, the stress will go down and disputes will be settled very quickly.

The less space chickens have, the more violent they are in establishing and maintaining the pecking order. They need around four square feet of space per bird inside the coop and eight square feet outside in the chicken run.

Use hanging feeders and waterers in the middle of an open area rather than in a corner if you are having problems.  There should be three inches of feeder and waterer space per chicken.  If you have more than six birds, use multiple feeders and waterers.  One inside the coop and one outside the coop if smaller birds are being pushed away.

There should be one nesting box for four hens and eight inches of roosting bar per bird.

Problems can occur when a new chicken is introduced to an existing flock. This upsets the pecking order and an new one must be reestablished.  If the new chickens are younger and outnumbered this can create additional problems.  Chickens have a habit of ganging up on any chicken that is bleeding and pecking at the red wound.  They are very attracted to the color red.  Remove and bleeding chickens and apply an antiseptic wound spray.    Silkies can be very territorial.

When introducing new flock member, fence off an area inside the chicken run for the new chickens.  After a couple of days remove the fencing and let them mingle. For more ideas on how to introduce new flock members,  check out “How to Integrate New Members Into Your Flock.

Humans are also part of the pecking order.  Roosters see you as part of their flock and will seek to overthrow your top position. Aggressive roosters can be dangerous especially if you have small children.  Never leave them unattended with a rooster who has shown past aggression towards humans.

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Doing the chicken wing dance around you and charging towards you are some clear signs that a rooster is challenging you for top spot.  Pecking and jumping at you to claw or spur you should not be allowed.  Never run from a rooster.  Stand your ground or run and chase after him.  Grab him and hold him down to the ground.  Put your hand over his head and back.  Hold him until he calms down and then let up on him.

Segregate any bully birds that you might have. Place them in a crate for a few days.  The pecking order will change while she is in isolation and when she is reintroduced, she will be the “new bird.”

In order to avoid problems in your coop make sure that there is always enough space for your birds and enough hiding places for members of the lower ranks.  The “hen pecked” chicken is always your most submissive and is often a silkie in a mixed flock. Try to keep to one rooster per pen.  A happy, stress free flock will give you more eggs.

For more tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies go to our weekly chicken blog at VJPPoultry.com

VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul in the city of Forest Lake, MN.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.

Follow us on Facebook for weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria Peterson

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