Silkies For Sale – 2/15/2018

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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Silkies For Sale – 2/8/18

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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