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 Fixeris 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 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  that are caged at the top to operate safer.

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 andRentACoop’s heating plate 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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The Perfect Chick Brooder

20180301_154220A brood is a group of chicks that are hatched or cared for at one time such as a hen with her brood of chicks.  A brooder is a place where a young chick can be kept safe and warm.  It takes the place of the mother hen but still can provide warmth and protection.  Even if you always use a broody hen for your hatches, it is good idea to have one available for emergencies.

This article is going to concentrate on the brooder box itself.  The box is an important starting point. The dishes, food, bedding and heat lamp are all added after the box is chosen.  There is an abundance of options out there for brooders.

The basic brooder can be made out of many different kinds of materials such as plastic, metal, wood or cardboard. You can buy a ready made brooder or you can make one yourself out of a cardboard box or plastic tote.  I prefer plastic because it is easy to clean and you can use it for multiple hatches.  Cardboard falls apart when it gets wet and damp conditions are not healthy for the chicks. Heat lamp use with cardboard and pine shavings can be a fire hazard unless you are extremely careful with mounting the heat lamp.

There are some wonderful brooders available.   A brooder box  or a rabbit hutchcan make a very sturdy brooder.  Some people use a wading pool  or even a dog carrier.    Whatever works for you.  Your choice will have to do with what time of year it is and whether the chicks will be inside or outside.  If outside, you will need to protect both the brooder and the chicks from the elements.

Folding play pens also can make great brooders.  Remember that protection from the outside world is very important.  The sides should be high enough so that the chicks do not jump out and that other pets cannot get in.  Twelve inches high is a nice height.  You will also need some kind of a top.  I just place a window screen on top that can be easily removed and can allow for maximum ventilation.  A larger screen can be used with larger brooders.

The size of your brooder will depend on how many chicks you are brooding.   Newborns up to 4 weeks old need around 1/4 square foot per chick.  Five weeks and up will need around 1/2 square foot per chick.  Bantam breeds will not need as much space as they are smaller.  It is better to buy a larger brooder and then use dividers to make it smaller for newborns.  A smaller space allows for a warmer area for newborns.

There are several home brooder kits that allow you to change the size of your area.  Some brooders come with stands for the heat lamp and other kits have even more extra equipment included.

Chicks stay in their brooder until they are feathered out (have lost their baby down and now have actual feathers).  I brood mine until they are ready to move outside at about 10 weeks.  Ten week old birds will not fit into their baby chick brooders.  As your chicks grow, you will need to find larger brooders or set up a brooder situation inside of their outdoor coop.

If you plan on brooding chicks every year then I would suggest something that is going to last and is easy to clean.  I have had the most success with plastic tote brooders or brooders made from large plastic dog carriers.  I use the plastic totes for the newborns and the dog carriers for larger chicks.  The clean up very easily.  Ventilation is important but brooders should not be drafty especially for newborns. If you need advice about how to heat your brooder check out “How to choose a heat source for your Brooder“.   For information on taking care of newborn chicks check out “Silkie Chick Management20180301_154243“.

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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