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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How To Integrate New Chickens Into Your Flock

20161106_123815Chicken Math is a very real thing.  We enjoy adopting new members to our flock and we want it to go as smoothly as possible.  Every year new birds are added and older birds are replaced or die off naturally.  A hen may chose to raise a clutch of chicks or new breeds catch our eye and we then must figure a way to incorporate these new birds into the standing social order.

Chickens are very social animals.  There is an order of dominance or what is called a “pecking order.”  The correct  integration of new birds is important.  You need to manage the pecking order so that new birds and chicks do not get hurt and the original flock does not become overly stressed.

When you first acquire new adult birds, they will need to be quarantined before you can mix them in with your home flock.  This is for the safety of your flock.  Do not quarantine them in the same area as your current birds.  Have a separate pen or crate away from the others.  They will need a place they can stay for thirty days.  You do not need to quarantine chicks that you buy from a hatchery as these are not exposed to an adult flock that may contain germs.

Each flock of chickens has their own germs that make them immune to certain things in their environment.  A new bird will not have that immunity.  This would  be a good time to give it some probiotics or Rooster Booster to help supplement its immune system.  A feed with extra protein will help it deal with the stress of being in a new place.

The new adult bird may also have some hidden issues.  Check for lice, mites, breathing problems or discharge from the eyes or nostrils.  A little poultry dust in case of mites or apple cider vinegar in the water for general health wouldn’t hurt.  Disease can take up to a month to show itself in a healthy bird.  Make sure that you practice biosecurity  and wash your hands when handling new birds.

It is best to introduce new birds in pairs or more. Do not buy a single bird and expect it to smoothly be accepted by the others.  Being alone and new is a double disadvantage.  If there is more than one bird introduced at the same time , they will then have a buddy to hang out with.  There is also more than one bird to take all of the pecks that will be directed their way.

Always add birds of a similar size to the flock. Larger breeds are always more dominant and will bully the smaller breeds. If you have a flock of Jersey Giants it would be difficult for a small bantam to be accepted.  Try to wait as long as possible to introduce young birds.  They should be done making baby noises and be as fully feathered out as possible.

The first step is to separate them in the coops and outside runs.  The idea is to keep them separate but visible to each other.  Seeing but no touching each other. They may try to fight through the fence but they can’t hurt each other.  Poultry netting is a good way to separate them.  Even just a dog crate sitting in the run will work.  Do this for a few days to a week.

When it is time to actually put the birds together there is a few ways you can do it.  Some people think that the best time to do it is at night after they have gone to bed.  Stick the new ones on the roost and they will all wake up together the next morning and may be more accepting.

Another method is to do a free range situation.  Let the new birds out to free range first.  Then let the rest of the flock out.  There is plenty of room for the new birds to run and hide or just plain get away from any unwanted pecks.

If you don’t let your birds free range, you can put the new birds in the run first and then let the older flock out. By letting the new birds out first, they can find out where the food and water is first. Distract the flock with treats so they won’t be so focused on the new chickens.  Make sure that you have multiple feeding dishes and watering stations.  The older flock may try and block the new birds from eating and drinking.

Make sure that they have plenty of room.  Overcrowding will stress everyone out and make the older birds resentful.  Put out more food and treats than they actually need.  Flock blocks can be helpful.  Hiding places are also important.  Just placing a piece of wood against a wall can provide a hiding place for a scared bird.

I know that it is hard, but the less interference from humans the better.  Unless there is blood it is best to let them work it out themselves.  If a bird is super aggressive towards a new one, put it in a dog kennel for a few days.  When it comes out, it will become a “new” bird and be taken down a peg or two.

Two or more roosters will not get along unless they are raised together and are not where they can see hens.  Ten hens per rooster is the recommended amount.  Don’t introduce a new adult rooster to a flock that already has a rooster. They will fight for dominance.

After you have introduced new birds, watch to make sure that they are eating and drinking.  Give them plenty of places to hide behind.  Put everyone on the same food and have separate dishes of oyster shell.

The introduction of new birds can cause your old flock to stop egg production for awhile until things settle down.  It will take a few weeks but soon everyone will have a new place in the pecking order.

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 Choose a Heat Source for your Brooder

20180309_092902A baby chick runs to the safety and warmth of its mother’s wings. Here it feels secure and loved. The mother hen’s body heat warms the little chick and when it is ready the chick will dart out into the world to find food and water.  When choosing a heat source for your brooder you will want something that can be as close as possible to a natural mother hen.

Chicks need supplemental heat.  Their little bodies will not keep themselves warm enough until they fully feather out.  Feathering out means that they completely lose their baby down and develop true feathers.  This can happen at different ages depending on your breed of chicken.  The larger the breed, the sooner they will no longer need a supplemental heat source.  Most breeds need it for about six weeks depending on the outside weather.  Brooding in the winter is different than brooding in the summer.  The temperature around your brooder will make a difference in how long you keep your chicks under the heat.

Chicks also need steady heat both day and night.  You will need a heat source that is dependable and allows for a typical  sleep cycle.   A steady white light on them 24/7 is not normal or natural.  A red infrared bulb is better for their sleeping patterns and is supposed to cut down on any pecking activity among the chicks.

The basic heat formula that most people use for baby chicks begins at 100 degrees Fahrenheit for newborns. This is what the temperature of the incubator was. You then subtract 5 degrees for each week of age after that. A one week old would be 95 degrees, a two week old would be 90 degrees and so on.  I find that formula way too warm and could lead to your little chicks pasting up on their fluffy behinds. In the world of the mother hen, the little ones would be exposed to cooler temps much sooner and I think that less heat is better than too much heat when it comes to brooders.  You need to make sure that the chicks are able to escape any temperature that is too warm.

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The most common way to brood chicks indoors is with a heat lamp fixture and a 250 watt heat lamp bulb.  It is the cheapest way to go and many people use it especially if they don’t brood chicks very often.  The pros for going this route is that you can purchase them at most places that sell chicken supplies.  You can hang them at any distance from the brooder.  However, many things can go wrong.  The biggest issue is that they can fall into the brooder and start a fire.  They must be hung very securely.  Do not rely on just the clamp.  Use zip ties and chain to secure it.  We always use a double system so if one cord fails the other cord will prevent it from falling. I will put a flat screen on top of my brooder as an additional measure to keep the heat lamp from falling into the brooder.  Make sure that your heat lamp fixture has a porcelain socket, not a plastic one that can melt.  The bulbs will have to be replaced. I have found that they also lose strength as they get older and do not put out as much heat.  Always have extra bulbs available in case your bulb burns out.  If they bulb burns out at night your chicks will become cold and begin to pile up on each other for warmth.  This will cause the ones on the bottom to suffocate.  Always start each season with a new bulb.  I have found a 250 watt heat lamp bulb too warm for small brooders. You can get infrared bulbs at lower wattage. Always dust your bulbs and hoods as dust buildup can cause a fire as well.  Reptile ceramic heat emitters  can also be used as a safer alternative to heat lamp bulbs.

There are also heat lamp holders from Premier that are vented at the top to operate cooler.  If dust builds up at the top, it will not start a fire. It also has a heavy duty cord.

Radiant heat is another brooder heat choice.  Radiant heat passes through air without warming the air.  There are several products that rely on radiant heat.  Brinsea’s Ecoglow , Titan’s Electric Mama Hen and Premier’s Mama Hen .   all use less electricity than a heat lamp bulb and mimic a mother hen.  They are for small batches of chicks but the Ecoglow 50 can warm up to 50 chicks.   The advantages of these are that there is no fire hazard , it uses less electricity (14 watts vs 250 watts) and there is no disruptive light.  It is more like a natural mother hen by creating a little cave to hide under.  You can adjust the height of them as the chicks grow.  You do not have to hang it up as it stands on legs.  You will have adventurous chicks jumping up on top of it and creating messes but it is easy to clean up.  These types of radiant heat brooder heat sources work best if the air around it is above 50 degrees. They are not effective in outdoor use if it is less than 50 degrees.  These products are not as warm as a heat lamp can be and will not heat the air around it.  I think that these are nice if you plan on doing a batch of chicks every year.  It may be expensive at first but it will pay for itself in lower electric costs.  There is nothing to replace on it so you do not need to worry about bulbs burning out.

A Sweeter Heater uses radiant heat as well. Instead of being a free standing unit, it is hung from above or as a side panel as in the cozy products panel.  Sweeter Heaters come in different sizes and are the best heaters for people who brood chicks frequently.  Hang it above on chains so that they are just above the chick’s height.  Raise it higher as the chicks grow taller.  Since it swings on chains, the chicks will be reluctant to roost on top of it.  Radiant heat has one temperature and no light to keep chicks up at night.  The unit is completely sealed so there is no fire danger.

I am in the process of changing out all of my indoor heat lamps and replacing them with Sweeter Heaters.  I have used heat lamps with brooders for ten years, but I have always had that nagging feeling that I should replace them.  I brood chicks all year long so it was best to switch to the Sweeter Heater method.  It will be cheaper in the long run on the electric bill and I will have the peace of mind that no bulb will burn out and leave all of my chicks in the cold.

Chicks will let you know if they are too warm or too cold by their behavior.  Cold chicks huddle up and cry (cheep). Too warm of chicks stretch out to the corners of the brooder to get away from the heat source.  Chicks that are just right will wander around all over the brooder doing typical chick things like eating and drinking.

If you are still undecided on what kind of chick brooder to get, check out “The Perfect Chick Brooder“.

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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