Why it is so Difficult to Sex Silkie Juvenile Chicks?

20180409_083330-1Silkies are among the hardest breed of chickens to sex at a young age.  The old adage that you can’t tell them apart until they crow or lay an egg has a lot of truth in it.  I have found that certain weeks of age are easier than others for telling which are boys and which are girls.

Newborns that are hatched together out of the same color pen can be judged on size.  Males tend to be larger and more curious than the females. This only works with same color chicks. If you want more information about sexing younger silkies, check out “sexing young silkie chicks.

At around three weeks, males will begin to be more aggressive and will play fight with other males in the same pen.  Beware – females can do this also.  The silkie comb on males may begin to show some signs of development from three weeks onward.  A upside down “U” at the top part of the comb may be the beginning of a wider developing comb and signal a male.  Females tend to have a more narrow upside down “V” at the top of their combs.

Males will continue to develop their combs which will become wider and may get bumpy.  After twelve weeks the female comb begins to get wider as well and males and females will begin to look similar again.

AT VJP Poultry we have a rooster return policy.  I had a customer return a rooster for rehoming last week that was around four months old. I asked him why he thought it was a rooster at that young age and he said that it was because it had a mean disposition.  I put my hand down next to it and it immediately pecked it – hard!

After the customer left, I began looking more closely at the bird.  It was a pet quality partridge or buff silkie.  The color was wrong for the show ring. The more I looked at it, the more I just couldn’t get a handle on whether I thought it was a boy or a girl.

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The first thing I did was to trim around the eyes. It was unable to see and this could have been part of the reason that it pecked so hard at my hand.  I took a look at the comb and wattles.  The comb was wider than younger females but at four months female silkie’s combs begin to grow.  I looked for wattles.  At four months they should be showing on a male.  I begin to see them as young as two months old as small red dots.  This bird had just the slightest suggestion of the outline of a wattle.  Again, females will develop very small wattles as they grow towards maturity.

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The crest of this bird had a definite pom pom shape.  Because I didn’t see this bird when it was younger, I don’t know if it went through any Elvis type crest that some males have beginning at two months.  I looked at the back of the head to check for “streamer” development.  Nothing so far, but there are new feathers coming in right at the spot that could later develop into streamers.

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Next I looked at the hackle feathers on the neck.  Males should have longer hackle feathers than the females at this point.  I did not have another to compare it with but they looked shorter and more female to me.

The wings on the bird looked long, especially the primaries.  They also seem to be hard or stiff – not shreddy.  Just because they seem large, it makes me think male.  Females have shorter primary feathers.

The tail is wide and stands up straight.  I also think that this is a male characteristic.  Females often have their tail down in a more submissive position.

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This silkie has large feet and massive foot feathering.  This is another sign of a male.  Females foot feathering are more in proportion to the rest of its body.  Foot feathering depends on breeding but males will have larger feet.

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The stance of this bird is very upright.  Boys stand up taller than girls as a rule and there is more room between the tail and the bottom of the feet.

Behavior is hard to tell since I didn’t see how it developed.  It seems very docile once its eye feathers were trimmed.  It is currently alone so I can’t see how it interacts with others.  Males would be more assertive. If you placed it with another male, they may begin to fight even at this young age.

Males at four months are often crowing especially first thing in the morning.  This bird only made soft clucking sounds like a hen would make.  It did not struggle when you picked it up and did not make grunting sounds like a male may make.

So let’s look at the score card:

Comb- Female                             Wattles- female

crest – female                               hackle feathers – female

wings – male                                tail – male

feet – male                                    stance – male

behavior- either                          noises – female

If I was pressed I would have to go with male, but it certainly could go the other direction.

This article is to show how hard it is to determine the sex of a young silkie.  Mistakes can be made.  Breeders and judges alike are not always certain when sexing silkies.  I do think that it is much easier to sex them if you watch how they grow and develop.  Taking a four month old juvenile silkie and trying to sex it in isolation is much more difficult.  Hopefully, a crow will come sooner or later – or maybe an egg.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center 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 J. Peterson

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Why Your Chicken Needs a Dust Bath

20180323_145950-1   All chickens should have access to dust baths.  It doesn’t matter what breed or age of chicken, it is instinctual for them to wallow in the dust and dirt.  It is their way of getting clean and practicing good hygiene.

When you first witness this dust bathing, you may think that something is wrong with your bird.  It almost looks like they are in trouble or having a seizure.  They are lying on their sides with one leg sticking out and the other scraping dirt and dust in kind of a circular motion.  The wings are throwing dirt up into the air so that it falls back down on top of them.  It looks scary , but it is perfectly normal.

Chickens will create a dust bath area all by themselves.  A chicken scratches and digs out a bowl shaped depression in the dirt or will even use the shavings inside of the coop.  The chicken settles into this hollow, fluffs up its feathers and then scratches up the dirt.

It might look like they are making a nest to lay eggs because it is round in shape but these are preparations for dust bathing.  Chickens use their feet and wings to get loose dirt throughout their skin and feathers.  Once they are completely covered in a layer of dirt, the bird will fluff and shake off the substance to evenly distribute it on their bodies.

A chicken’s dust bath helps to remove excess oil, as well as parasites such as lice, mites and ticks.  Dust bathing is an important part of keeping chickens healthy and clean.  It is important that your chicken has access to areas where dust bathing can take place. Most will look for a sunny spot with loose dirt.  Even if they never get to free range, you can set up a dust bath in their coop or pen.

There are four main behaviors when dust bathing: vertical wing-shaking, head rubbing, bill raking and scratching with one leg.  The hen scratches with her feet and beak at the ground.  She then erects her feathers and lies down. They create deep bowls as they wiggle and squirm to get dirt deep under their feathers.  They make happy noises while flipping dirt all over themselves.  The dust collects between the feathers and then is shaken off.  This helps to give the feathers good insulating abilities.

Chickens clean their feathers and skin by preening with their beaks and using an oil gland at the base of their tail. After a dust bath a hen will spend time primping and pecking at their feathers. This helps to smooth their feathers and removes sheaths on new feathers.  Feather maintenance is very important.  Birds of all kinds take dust baths and certain mammals do as well to keep clean and remove parasites.

Most dust bathing occurs in the middle of the day. Warm temperatures increase dust bathing behavior. Hens will tend to dust bath if they see other hens doing it.  It ends up being a very social activity.  It is not just hens that will dust bath, but roosters enjoy doing it as well.

The need for a dust bath is ingrained in their behavior.  They will dig holes if you don’t provide them with a spot.  Free ranging birds will find a place in your garden if you let them.   Battery hens in cages will sham dust bathe.  They will go through the motions of dust bathing even if there is no other material in their cages.

Here at VJP Poultry, we decided it was time to create some dust bathing areas inside of our runs.  We used treated 1″ X 4″ lumber and made 18″ X 24″ boxes with no bottom.  We set them in the run and filled them half full with play sand.

There are other things that you can use to create your dust bathing areas. Any large shallow pan such as a kitty litter pan or small kiddie pools.   Fill it with a variety of substrates.  Some examples would be :  Fine sand, dry dirt,  or peat moss.

Some people like to add food grade diatomaceous Earth or DE.  The sharp edges pierce the soft body parts of parasites and kills them.  Be careful with DE as it can be very harmful if inhaled and can damage lungs.  Use a small amount as part of your substrate.

Firepit ash or ash from a wood stove is another product that can be used. Birds can absorb magnesium, calcium and vitamin K from the ash.  Use ash from hardwood trees and make sure that if you remove it from your own fire pit that there isn’t any additional chemicals such as in treated lumber.

Dried herbs are natural pest repellents.  They can get rid of mosquitoes, flies and ants as well as parasites such as mites, lice and ticks.  They provide calming aroma therapy and have antibacterial properties to heal minor scratches and wounds.  Add them to the substrate as well.

You can also purchase ready made dust bath products.  It is easy to add to what ever other products you want in your dust bath mix.

Remember that you will need to periodically clean out your dust bath area.  I pick out the big chunks daily and give it a good raking.  A cover or a beach umbrella will help to keep out the rain.  You want your dust bath to stay as dry as possible.  One of those turtle sand boxes with a cover or any plastic cover sandbox can make a great dusting area.  If possible, move your dusting area inside in the winter to prevent the substrate from freezing.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center 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 J. Peterson

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Egg Color and Colored Earlobes in Chickens

20180324_153532-1Chickens lay a rainbow of colors when it comes to egg shells.  White, cream, tan, pink, blue, green, brown and speckled.  But did you realize that a chicken’s earlobes are different colors as well, and that some people can make guesses as to what color egg a certain hen will lay based on her earlobe color.

A chicken’s ears are located on each side of its head, just below its eyes.  They do not stick out like most animals do.  The ears are located inside of the head.  The earlobe is just below the ear.  It is a slight thickening of the skin and is smooth with no feathers.

Birds are the only animal that lay colored eggs.  Popular folklore says that if a chicken’s earlobes are white, they will tend to lay white eggs.  If they have red earlobes they will lay brown eggs.  We know that there are many exceptions to this.  Some red earlobed birds lay greenish or blue eggs.  Silkies have turquoise earlobes and lay a cream colored egg.  Chicken breeds which have white earlobes with a pearly iridescent shine such as a cream legbar, lay blue eggs.

Eggshell color is definitely based on breed.  Unless you have a mixed chicken, the birds will lay true to their breed.  Araucana have red earlobes and lay blue or green eggs.  Penedesencas have white earlobes and lay dark brown eggs.  Some Americanas have white earlobes and lay blue eggs.  Earlobe color is based on breed genetics as well.  You can’t correlate earlobe color and egg shell color because one is not based on the other.

Depending on the breed, a hen will lay about 500 eggs in her lifetime.  All eggs start out white.  Those that are other shades have pigments deposited on them as the eggs travel through the hen’s oviduct.  This journey takes about 26 hours until the egg is laid.  The shell itself takes 20 hours to complete.  Ameraucanas have the pigment oocyanin deposited on the egg as it travels.  This pigment permeates the eggshell resulting in both the inside and the outside of the shell being blue.

Chickens that lay brown eggs deposit the pigment protoporphyrin on the eggs while they are forming their shells.  This pigment only stays on the top of the shell.  The inside of the shell remains white.  The darkest brown eggs are from Marans.

In order to create a green colored egg, a brown pigment overlays a blue egg shell.  The darker the brown pigment, the more olive color the egg will look.

No matter what color the outside of the egg is , the inside will all look similar.  The color of the yolk is determined by the hen’s diet.  The more green veggies in the diet, the deeper the color of the yolk.

Chickens have two ears on each side of their head.  They have eardrums and an outer ear, middle ear and inner ear.  They are able to harness sound waves and send them to the inner ear.  Unlike humans, who experience hearing loss as they age, chickens are able to regrow damaged hearing cells.  Scientists are very interested in learning more about this special adaption and in being able to apply it to help humans with hearing loss.

Hearing well is very important to all birds.  It is imperative that they can hear approaching predators.  Chickens can tell how far away a sound is coming from by gauging how long it takes the sound to reach the ear.

Baby chicks are able to hear their mother clucking from inside of the egg.  An embryo can hear by around day 12 of their incubation period.  Once hatched a chick will respond to its mother tapping on the ground when she finds food.  If you tap on the food dish your baby chicks should come running.

Ear infections in chickens are often caused by bacteria entering the ear.  Antibiotic drops can be given for 3 to 5 days if the infection is caused by bacteria.  Clean the ear with hydrogen peroxide and a Q-tip to loosen any debris on the ear.  Do not put a Q-tip deep into the chicken’s ear as it can damage it.

Timely egg collection is important.  Don’t leave eggs under hens unless you plan on hatching.  I like to use a wire egg basket to  help me handle all of the eggs if find.  If you are interested in more information on egg collection check out our blog.

It is fun to see the assortment and variety of egg colors that can come from your hens. You can display them quite creatively with an egg spiral holder or egg counter holder.  Eggs that have not previously been refrigerated can stay on your counter for about a week and stay fresh.  You can get quite fancy with your egg storage holder.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center 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 J. Peterson

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How to Prevent Pasty Butt in Baby Chicks

 

20160919_121349Almost everyone has had a chick which has had a piece of poo sticking to its behind.   We try to remove it and end up making an even bigger mess by smearing  the poo around the poor chick’s backside. It ends up drying hard like cement or worse capping the vent causing a small explosion of backed up poo when finally removed.  There must be a way to prevent all of this from happening again.

Pasty Butt or “pasting up”, is a condition in which the little chick’s poo gets stuck to the vent (small slit on chick’s back end) and “stops up” the chick like a cork.  The chick can’t eliminate its poo and the poo gets backed up into the body of the chick.  This can kill the chick fairly quickly if not removed.

If I see that a chick is plugged up, I will carefully remove the piece of poo with my fingernail. I gently tug, being careful not to hurt the chick. This works best when the poo is dried. Some feather down may come off with the poo using this method.  Sometime there is too much poo and it is too wet to remove it with your fingernail.  I will then use a Q-tip and warm water to soften the poo until it comes off.  The disadvantage with this method is that now the chick has a wet behind and can quickly become chilled.  I gently dry it off with a towel or paper towel and place it back under the heat lamp to finish drying.

Pasty Butt is common in chicks sent in the mail or in crowded feed store bins.  It tends not to happen in chicks who are hatched and raised by a broody hen.  Their temperature is regulated by her feathers and she will take care of making sure that their behinds are clean.

When you’ve hatched out chicks in an incubator or have had chicks arrive in the mail, you must take the place of the mother hen and clean the chicks yourself.  The new baby chicks will not be able to clean themselves until they are at least a week old. They are not capable of reaching around to that spot to clean it properly.  This will be your job as surrogate mother hen.  You will need to check your chicks regularly for the first week of life.  After the first week is finished pasty butt  is less common and they are better able to keep themselves clean.  Their bodies have also become better regulators of heat and their digestive system is better able to handle new food.

When checking your chicks, don’t confuse the vent with the belly button.  The vent is immediately below the tail feathers.  It is a thin line that opens and closes.  This opening is also through which the eggs will come out of the hen’s body when she starts to lay.  The belly button is between the vent and the chick’s legs.  There may, perhaps, be a piece of the umbilical cord still there.  Don’t pull on it as sometimes intestines can still be attached to it and you can end up pulling out the baby chicks bowels.  The cord will drop off itself in a day or two.

You may wonder what causes pasty butt in the first place and why do only some chicks suffer from it.  Silkies in particular seem to get it quite a bit.  This may have something to do with their extra fluffy down.  The poo seems to stick to it quite easily.  It may help to put a dab of vaseline jelly with a Q-tip right below the vent line.  The poo is then unable to stick to the down.

Temperature regulation has a lot to do with whether your chick will develop pasty butt.  Too hot or too cold conditions will bring on an outbreak.  Chicks that are sent in the mail often are left in cold mail rooms where they may become chilled.  If mailed out in the summer they may also suffer from too warm of conditions.

250 Watt  Heat lamp bulbs can often put too much heat into your small brooder.  Try a smaller watt bulb or use a different heating source.  I like  the Ecoglow or the Sweeter Heater.  They both mimic a mother hen by creating a warm cave where the chick can feel protected.  I have not found them to be too warm.  Radiant heat does not heat the air but does heat the chick and bedding.  Watch your bird’s behavior.  They will let you know if they are too hot or too cold.  Chicks that are too cold will huddle up together and make loud cheeping sounds.  Chicks that are too warm will spread out to the corners of your brooder to try and get away from the heat source.  For the first week the brooder should be 90-95 degrees.  For more information check out How to choose a Heat Source for your Brooder.

Placing the chick in stressful situations will also bring on pasty butt.   Overcrowding in the brooder can bring on stress for baby chicks.  Too many chicks can trample each other in their frenzy to find the best spot in the brooder, best place to get food or best place at the waterer.  Stronger chicks will walk over weaker ones.  Smaller chicks can get squished into corners.  Keep your numbers in the brooder manageable.  Newborn chicks need about six square inches of space each.  They also need space in which to get away from the heat source if they need to.  More information about brooder size is at Choosing the Perfect Brooder.

Other things that can cause stress are loud noises and frequent handling by over eager children.  The first week of life should be a time of calmness with no major transitions.  They are very cute to look at but when you sweep your hands into their brooder to scoop them up all they are thinking about are flying predators.  They instinctively know that they should fear things that come from above.  Try moving the brooder off the floor and onto a table where your presence is not so threatening.  Keep the brooder in a quiet area.  Limit your handling of the chicks during that first week.  There will be plenty of time later to cuddle with your chick.  Chickens do not imprint like some other birds. There is not need to try and tame them that first week.

Baby chick’s first food should be “Chick Starter” crumbles.  The size of the crumbles can vary.  For the first week of life I recommend grinding the chick starter up so that it resembles powder. I use a coffee grinder. I think that this is easier to digest than some of the large crumbles that are in some packages.  Pasty Butt poo is sometimes very loose and runny.  Oatmeal can firm it up. I take old fashioned oatmeal and grind that up in a coffee grinder and then add it to the ground up chick starter.  I make a batch that is 1/4 oatmeal and 3/4 chick starter.  They seem to really like it and tend to eat more food with the oatmeal in it. I will also sprinkle some chick grit (sand) on top of it, kind of like just adding a sprinkling of salt to something.  This will also help to firm their poo up as well.  Grit can also be offered in a separate dish.

Treats should be given very sparingly that first week.  I wouldn’t give them any treats beyond ground up oatmeal, hard boiled egg yolk, or perhaps some plain yogurt.  Pasty butt is often a result of the chick switching from nutrients found in their egg to the new food out in the world.  Stick with the chick starter for now.  There is plenty of time for treats after they are a week old and their digestive systems can better handle it.

I do add some things to their water.  Probiotics and vitamins can give them a good start.  Rooster Booster has both vitamins and probiotics .  It can be added to water or sprinkled on feed. Probios is also a choice for adding active cultures to your chick’s gut. Gro – 2 – Max is a product that is organic and provides probiotics for your water .I also add a splash of apple cider vinegar to their water for gut health.

Be on the lookout for listless behavior.  I notice that my chicks move and walk differently when they have pasty butt.  They do not feel well when they are plugged up.  Remember that temperature, stress and food each play a role in your chick’s health.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center 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 J. Peterson

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