How to get Beetle Green Sheen in Black Chickens

 

The green sheen on a black chicken is something very much desired.  You find it in the tail feathers, wings, saddle and hackles of solid, deep black feathered birds.  The purple sheen is not a desired trait and some will even say that it is a nutritional deficiency that causes it.

Microraptor was a very small, four winged dinosaur that lived 130 million years ago. Its feathers have been fossilized and they show black and blue hues similar to a crow.  It is the earliest evidence of iridescent feather color.  Microraptor was completely black with a glossy, iridescent blue sheen.

Feather color is produced in birds by arrays of pigment bearing organelles called melanosomes.  Iridescence happens when the melanosomes are organized in stacked layers.  This iridescence is widespread in modern birds and is frequently used in courtship displays.

In chickens, the green sheen on black is very much sought after and appears to be in part produced by the structure of the feathers and in part by the condition of the pigment in them.  It is found only in chickens with good black color and in the absence of any purple barring.  It can also be found in any chicken that has some black feathers such as partridge silkies.

The quality of the feather is a very important issue.  A black chicken with a strong green sheen will have a much smoother feather feel to it.  You should almost be able to feel how soft and conditioned that green sheen feather is when compared to duller feathers.

The amount of green sheen varies from bird to bird.  Some have a lot of sheen and others don’t.  Mostly it is found in roosters, but hens can have it too.  I have seen some beautiful sheen on the wings and body of very dark hens.  Sheen is more apparent in the sun where light can reflex off of the feathers.

Keratin is a crucial protein in bird’s feathers. The way it is structured allows light to twist and turn and separate.  It allows feathers to act like a prism by scattering the longer wavelengths of light and reflecting shorter ones to give us the gorgeous blues, purples and greens.

The preen gland is a gland that is located at the base of the tail. This secreted oil helps to keep keratin flexible.  This makes feathers appear more saturated with color.  Most birds preen by rubbing their beak and head over the preen gland pore and then rubbing the accumulated oil over the feathers on its body.

The green color you see is due to the effect of light scattering and reflecting off the feather structure.  This is called the Tyndall Effect and it creates the illusion of certain colors.

There are four basic types of feather luster.  There is green, red/purple, blue and matte- the absence of any sheen.  Feather sheen is a matter partly of genes and partly of feather condition.

Gold based blacks are easier to get the correct green sheen and eliminate purple sheen.  Green sheen is good and purple sheen is not among chicken breeders in the United States. A dilute black will not give you the same sheen display as a pure black color. Here is an article on my adult black silkie pen and what it is like to work with the black color.  That super black color is especially useful if you are working with varieties such as Paint Silkies.

If you want to breed towards improving green sheen you must selectively breed for those desired traits.  Breed green to green and remove birds with the purple/red sheen from your breeding program.  Have a separate coop to keep your breeding pair in; that way you can be sure of the parentage.  Keep track of your breeding pens and keep careful written records of parents and the quality of their offspring.  For more information check out “How to Keep a Flock History“.

The degree of iridescence seen on all feathers is a matter of condition.  A healthy bird on a good diet has more vibrant colors.  Excellent food and clean, safe conditions in the coop will go a long way towards bringing out the color in your birds.  Good health will improve the sheen of the feathers so they better reflect the light.

Feather Fixer is a supplement feed that people often use to improve a chicken’s feathers.  Any higher protein feed will help to condition feathers.  Adding vitamins and electrolytes to your bird’s water will also improve its overall health as well as probiotics and Rooster Booster.

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 Effectively Control Chicken Dust

Snapchat-504766167-1Chicken dust can drive you crazy.   It is that fine white powder that works its way into every crevice and surface it can find.  If you keep brooder chicks in your house, you will find chicken dust all over your home.  Your outdoor coops can be very dusty as well to the point of making you gag every time you enter .the front door.

Chicken dust and poultry dust are different things. Chicken dust is a mixture of chicken feed, bedding material, bird droppings and feathers and dander from a chicken.  Poultry dust is a chemical powder that you buy and use in your coop and on your bird to prevent mites and lice.  We will be discussing chicken dust in this article.

There are four main things that can cause chicken dust.  The first is made by chickens themselves and it is the number one cause of the dust.  This is chicken dander.  Dander is microscopic flakes of dried dead and shed skin.  It can also come from the shafts of their feathers.  Because chicks grow quickly, their skin cells are constantly turning over and shed off of their bodies.  If your chicks are less than 18 weeks old they are constantly molting and growing feathers.  The cuticle that sheathes the pinfeathers as they emerge, break off and contribute to the dust.  Any age chicken that is going through a molt is creating more chicken dust than they usually would.

The second creator of chicken dust is chicken feed.  If you are using crumbles such as chick starter, the fines (very fine, ground up dust from feed) are seen in your dish and at the bottom of your bag when you shake it out. As the chicks eat the food, they break it up into small pieces which fall into the feeding dish and create dust.  Using a pellet form of food for adult birds will help cut down on the dust from the feed.  Moving feeders outside will keep the dust from accumulating in the coop.

A third dust creator is is dry chicken poo. As it becomes hard and dry it can start to break down and become dust. Birds walking on it can help to make smaller pieces which leads to dust.  I try and scoop up poo from outside in the run and inside the coop whenever I see chunks of it. I like the Activarmr gloves for this and all chicken jobs. They are flexible for picking things up and the bottoms are waterproof.  Picking up poo keeps things looking cleaner and gets rid potential dust.

The last dust maker is from bedding.  Pine shavings can be very dusty if you are buying the small flakes. Small flakes can be very powdery and very saw dust lik. Try to buy large flakes or a dust free bedding.  Some bedding becomes dusty as it decomposes such as pine needles, straw and hay.

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Dust in the house is a real nuisance.  One way to prevent it is to keep your brooder in the garage and clean the brooder regularly.  Incubators inside the home attract a lot of dust due to hatching. Besides regular cleaning after use, us an air hose to blow out dust around the fan to keep the incubator in good working order. I use a feather duster to dust everywhere dust has accumulated inside on flat surfaces such as heat lamps hoods.  Other dusters such as microfiber dusters are great for those hard to get at spots.

I have a Neato robotic vacuum which I just love. Neato vacuums my entire house everyday. He helps me to be a better housekeeper by keeping extra things off of the floor so that he has more room to vacuum. This has led me to removing unneeded things off of tables and shelves so that I am able to dust faster and easier.

One other thing I have in the house is an air purifier.  We keep ours in the room where we do incubation and hatching. I keep the door to this room closed to keep the dust centralized.

If you have been out to our place, you know that we have our chick room off the garage. This winter we installed an air exchange with filter. It is filtering and exhausting  air to the outside of the house.  This also helps to reduce the humidity created by all of those little chicks breathing and reduces odor. The chicken dust is trapped by the filter.

In the outdoor coops we always leave every window and door open all year round so that the dust can find its way outside. We installed turbine ventilators in the roof to draw air out and cool things down.  Fans in the windows also blows unwanted dust out.

When I begin to clean the coops outside, I first remove all of the old bedding and empty it out. Then you can use a shop vac or a leaf blower to remove accumulated dust on the walls and ceiling.  Make sure that the windows and doors are wide open so that the dust can be blown out.  Wait ten minutes so that the dust in the air has settled and then wipe everything down with a wet cloth using a sanitizer  such as Oxivir or a coop cleaner.  For more information about cleaning a chicken coop check out this blog.

Always wear protective masks and eye wear when cleaning the chicken coop. There is such a thing as  occupational asthma for people who work in the poultry industry.  Always protect your airways with disposable face masks.   You should also wear safety glasses to keep the dust out of your eyes.  Your health is important.

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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The Mysterious Courtship Dance of Chickens

20161105_140426Most birds perform some kind of courtship dance as a prelude to actual mating. There are many magnificent displays in the avian world. Think about what peacocks do in their foreplay to get the lady bird in the mood with their beautiful tails.

Roosters will try to lure and entice their mates by displaying their beauty as well.  They attempt to attract their mates as they fan their wings in a romantic manner.   This is called a wing drag or wing flicking.  He will begin to make some croaking sounds as he gets closer to the hen.

The rooster performs a dance, circling the hen with his wing dropped stiffly towards the ground and quivering.  As he circles around her making his croaking noise, she will either encourage him or try to come up with an escape plan. In a perfect situation the hen will daintily squat down and raise her shoulders to flatten out, welcoming him in every way.

The rooster then leaps onto her back and balances precariously with one foot on either side of her shoulders.  This is called Threading.  He grabs the female’s neck with his beak and pulls back her head. He then lowers his vent opening (cloaca) by sliding his tail under the hen and she pushes her vent opening to meet with his.  There is no penetration.  The sperm released from the male is taken into the vent by the female.  From there the sperm travels up the oviduct where it awaits the release of an ovum.  The sperm can be actively alive in the hen for more than two weeks. This whole sexual act takes about two seconds.  When mating is done, the hen will rise, shake her feathers and go on with whatever she was doing beforehand.

The female chicken does not have a separate vaginal structure.  The vent or cloaca is used for both defecation and reproduction.  The males also have a vent or cloaca but they do not have a penis to actually penetrate the hen.  The rooster’s sexual organ is called the papilla. It is located inside of the bird, just inside of the vent.  It looks like a small bump.  Semen exits through it.  Ducks have a penis but chickens do not.

A hen lays an egg every day or so regardless if there is a rooster around or not.  In order for it to be a fertile egg, you will need the rooster to do his part.  Each time a yolk ripens, the sperm will fertilize it provided it is in the hen’s oviduct.   The white is created and then lastly the shell will form around the egg.  A fertilized egg will have a dot surrounded by a ring around it which looks like a bullseye on the yolk. In an infertile egg there will only be a white dot.  You can check this out by cracking open an egg and looking at it.

Chickens also engage in a little dance called “tid-bitting.”  If a rooster finds a choice bit of food that looks really tasty, he bobs his head up and down and makes his “tid-bitting” call.  He picks up the food and drops it repeatedly in order to attract the hen.  He may even offer the morsel in his beak.  It all looks very romantic and sweet but he is also establishing his role among the hens as a provider and leader.

There are many different recommendations as to how many hens per rooster to give you adequate fertility in your eggs.  Most say eight to twelve hens per rooster. If you have a heavier breed, the ratio would be lower. If you have a smaller breed the ratio would be higher.  If you would like more information on how to improve fertility in roosters check out this article.

You may want to isolate breeders to make sure that you know who the father is. Wait at least two weeks if your hen has been exposed to other roosters to make sure that all of the sperm inside the hen is no longer active.  If you are interested in showing poultry or are just interested in improving your flock you can set up breeding pens where you can isolate certain pairings in order to get certain types of chicks.

As winter ends and spring begins the testosterone in the roosters starts to rise.  Roosters will begin to mount challenges to each other as they fight for the rights to the hens.  You may want to separate the roosters, but remember, once you separate them it will be very hard to put them back together again.

Crowing is both an invitation to hens and a warning to other roosters in the area.  Serious fights can happen between roosters. They can use their sharp spurs as weapons.  Aggression when establishing dominance is normal behavior in the chicken world.  If you give them plenty of space, they will usually work the dominance hierarchy out themselves.  Chickens have strict pecking orders. The alpha rooster is at the top, then the hens and lastly the younger pullets and cockerels.

A rooster can mate up to thirty times a day depending on how many hens are available to him.  Not all roosters are interested in mating or are built for it.  You should have a similar sized rooster matched with a similar sized hen for best chance of fertilization. If you want to try and improve the virility of your rooster, you may want to add some vitamins and electrolytes to his water or some Rooster Booster Poultry Cell. A little B-12 would perk him up a little too.

Most roosters are very interested in mating with the hens. They will chase hens causing them to lose feathers. Constant harassment on the part of the rooster can cause bald spots on the hen’s back. The roosters do have favorite hens which they will mate repeatedly.  You may want to invest in hen saddles.  They protect the hen’s back and sides.  They can also be worn to prevent self-picking or feather picking from other hens.  Pick no more and Blu-Kote are also products that can help prevent the picking and aid in treatment . Vetericyn Spray will help to treat wounded birds as well.

If you want to aid in feather grow back, Feather Fixer  feed can help increase protein in their diet. You may also want to trim the spurs and toenails on your rooster using a diagonal wire cutter.   Information on how to do this is Here.  This can help to prevent any wounds occurring on your hens.

A well mannered rooster who dances for his ladies and waits for them to accept him is a joy to behold. Your pens will be much calmer if you keep and breed roosters with this special ability.

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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My Experience With VJP Poultry from Cage-Free Mom

20180206_141456-1When we decided to get chickens, we knew we wanted them as pets and not for meat production. That led us down a rabbit hole of research and getting opinions from people we trusted. We decided that we were going to get some Silkie chickens. They are known for being friendly , beautiful, small and easy as well as having fairly good egg production (3 per week). Everything we wanted in our first batch of chickens.

A friend of mine referred us to VJP Poultry in Forest Lake, Minnesota. One of her friends had some show chickens from VJP that had done very well in the 4-H program. We were relieved to find someone near us that had quality chickens. They are NPIP tested and hold a State of Minnesota Hatchery Permit. We felt confident that we could get some great chicks from here.

At that point I still wanted to do some more research on how to care for our new chickens and how to sex them so we wouldn’t end up with all roosters! The internet gave me a bunch of mixed information (turns out it is nearly impossible to sex Silkie chicks) so I decided to reach out to VJP Poultry and see if they could give me any nuggets of information! The response time was very fast and they were very patient with all of my questions. I was relieved that they have a rooster return program. I was really nervous about this because in our area, we are not allowed to have roosters. If we do end up with any roosters we can return them to VJP and they will re-home them. Every question was answered and we were welcomed to come out and see their options.They do post weekly on their Facebook Page VJP Poultry Facebook which is very helpful. You can see what colors and ages are available as well as the pricing of them.

Not only do they have great customer service but they also run blog posts on their website. They have links to items you can purchase for your chicks/chickens , articles on ventilation and how to keep your Silkies safe and happy during the winter.

We set a date and went out to see the chicks. Victoria (owner) met us and gave us some time in the chick room. It was nice to have some time to check all the chicks out and discuss our options without feeling the pressure of picking right away. When she came in, she was able to guide us in the right direction. We really wanted a few splash chicks so she went upstairs and brought down some 4 day old babies. We fell in love and decided to take them.

Along with the chicks, she provided us with some bedding and a little sheet giving us tips on how to care for young chicks as well as a copy of their certification.  We were very pleased with our experience and will be returning for all of our future Silkie purchases! I highly recommend them and if you are anywhere in MN or surrounding states, go check them out as they do not ship. Tell them Ashley with Cage-Free Mom sent you!

Stay tuned for pictures of our new chicks! (Shadow, Ducky, Butterscotch, Marshmallow & Fairy Potter)

You can find more blogs from Cage-Free Mom here.   Text and lower picture by Ashley Molin – The Cage-Free Mom

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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Feeding Strategies for Silkie Chickens in the Winter

bestFeeding chickens in the winter is a little different than feeding chickens during the rest of the year.  During nice weather, chickens love to forage and free range in the pasture looking for the choicest bits of protein and green roughage.  They are so happy and content and their minds are fully occupied. In the winter, however, there are limited opportunities to free range. They do not like snow and in Minnesota their chance of finding bugs is slim to none.

Hens that are laying eggs need extra protein all year round and its not just the right kind of food but the right amount of food that is important as well.  As winter approaches , a chicken’s feed consumption will be 1.5 times the amount they eat in the spring and summer.  You will notice an increase in your feed bill and you will be filling those feeding dish more often.

This increase in food consumption is due to the fact that they are coming off of their fall molt and need energy to regrow feathers.   They are also using more energy in order to keep warm in the winter.  They can’t just put on another sweater. They have to generate body heat to keep themselves from freezing.  If they were free rangers they no longer have access to free food in the form of bugs and greens.  Instead they will be increasing their feed consumption in their feeding bowls.

The most important thing to remember when feeding in the winter is to  make sure that they are getting plenty of their regular, nutritious feed.  Some people have their hens on layer food which has calcium in it. It is around 16% protein.  I like to feed mine a Gamebird feed which has a higher percent of protein.  I think that silkies benefit all year round from that higher 24% protein. These basic feeds are created to give your bird the correct amount of vitamins and minerals that they need. This is what they should be eating most of the day.  Add Oyster shell to the feed for eggshell development.  I also put vitamins in their water because I think that silkies need that extra amount of nutrients.

Carbohydrate treats help to keep your birds warm especially on exceptionally cold days. The best sources are what you would find in chicken scratch.  Cracked corn, oats and wheat. Scratch scattered around the coop or run will also give the birds something to do and keep them occupied.  Remember to offer grit with the scratch.  In the winter the small rocks in your run may be covered in snow not allowing the chickens to find their own grit.  They need the grit in their crops in order to grind up these scratch grains.

Some people make a nice bowl of warm oatmeal for their chickens on cold mornings. It is a great treat to warm up their insides.  Just use regular breakfast oatmeal but make sure that you are not serving it too hot.  Cracked corn is a wonderful winter treat. I give mine to my silkies right before bedtime. They will go to bed with a full crop and be warm all night. Watch out for cracked corn turning white silkie’s feathers a yellow tinge on their necks and crests. I usually feed oatmeal instead of corn to the whites.  Also, be aware that too many carbohydrates will make your chickens overweight.  A heavy hen is not a good layer so be careful with the amount of treats.  Treats should be given later in the day as the birds need the nutrients from their main feed first.

Sprouting grains and fodder is a great way to bring the goodness of the outdoor summer pasture all year round.  Sprouting grains can increase the enzyme, vitamin and protein content of any seed.  I have sprouted and fed my birds both oats and wheat.  If you would like to learn how to sprout check out “Sprouting Grains and Growing Fodder” in our blog archives.

Live mealworms can be grown at home or ordered as a fun protein treat.  You can grow them using wheat bran as bedding.  If you are not sure that you want to deal with live mealworms, they also have the dried form which the birds also enjoy.  You can also order live crickets which your hens will have no trouble gobbling up.  There are freeze dried crickets as well.

Boredom is common during the winter in the coop.  You don’t want the birds to turn on each other in desperation for something new and interesting to do. Try hanging a cabbage or head of lettuce in one of these treat balls. They will spend hours trying to get at those leafy vegetables.  Be sure and feed extra greens such as kale, collard, chard and spinach.  Leftovers from your salads are great for them as are any kitchen scraps.

Flock Blocks are popular because they lasts a long time.  Chickens have an instinct to peck at things.  Better to have them pecking at a flock block than pecking at each other during the winter months.

If you are offering treats to your flock outside in the winter, make sure that you are placing it in some kind of bowl or feeding dish.  The ground can be very wet outside in the winter.  If you sprinkle food on the ground it will get soggy.  Birds do not like soggy food.  Make sure you clean up any left over food and pellets.  If you don’t it will attract pests such as mice.  Store extra food safely in sealable containers so you don’t attract predators.

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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