Chickens

Breeds We Have

We have gained quite a selection of chicken breeds here at Olive Tree Farm. We have: Austrian, Americana, Aurucana, White Sussex, White Star, Bantam and Barnevelders.

What They Eat

Chickens have a mainly seed-based diet, but they still need a source for protein. We feed ours on wheat, barley and corn which have been soaked for 4 days – we do this because the seeds expand and makes the food last longer as well as filling the chickens up quicker with a lesser amount – it also increases the nutricional value quite significantly (more than double!). We also give them weeds and alfalfa to pick through.

Soaking Chicken Seed

Something else we do is digging over the soil in their pens – this makes it easier for them to scratch at the ground and find insects and worms to eat, giving them that protein that they need.

Housing 

We have built various houses for the chickens in their different pens that all follow the same principles: somewhere to roost, somewhere to nest and somewhere to shelter. We’ve used an old shed as well as designing our own houses from pallet wood and other scraps that we have found.

Within these houses are a long pole or plank for them to roost on and nesting boxes or barrels laid with straw,.which makes egg-collecting that much easier to do as they will all lay in the same place.

Brooding, Incubating & Chicks 

Broody Hens: There is a very obvious sign that a hen is turning broody. She will sit on the eggs and only move to drink and feed, hurrying back to the nest as quickly as she can. This, she will do for 20-22 days until the chicks have hatched, and then a further couple of days until the chicks get their bearings and there are no more late-hatchers. We will make sure that she has close-access to food and water so she doesn’t have to go far from her eggs, and once the chicks have hatched we will provide an additional chick-crumb (named B1), so she can teach them to peck and feed.

Incubating: We collect eggs over a period of days – turning them once or twice a day so the yolk doesn’t stick and keeps the movement. Once we have the amount we are looking for, we place them within the incubator. We keep the temperature between 37.4 – 37.6 degrees celsius, and make sure the humidity is at 45-55%. The eggs will be turned once every 3-4 hours, and we stop turning them on day 18. On hatching day (day 22), we will up the humidity to 55-65% so it is easier for the chicks to break through their shells.

Some of our new hatchlings

Chicks: The chicks will be provided for and protected by the mother hen, and they will gather beneath her at night to stay warm – so we don’t really have to do much except provide the chick crumb that is easier for them to eat. When we incubate them, they are moved to a brooder-box with a heat lamp which we start at 37 degrees celsius and we reduce it by 5 degrees per week to acclimatize them.

Sexing Chicks: Now, there are two methods of sexing chicks. The first is before they are even placed into the incubator, and the second method is once they have hatched.

So, the first method of finding out the possible sex of the chick within is to deduce the shape of the egg. If it is pointy, it’s a male. If it is rounded, it’s a female. We have tried this method and it worked for us.

The second method, once the chicks are hatched, is to check their wings. You have a small window to do this before their first feather change. Here is a picture to show you what to look for:

As you can see, the female (on the left) has enlongated wing feathers. This is the easiest way of sexing a chick once it has hatched.

Care & Maintenence 

Chickens tend to look after themselves – we merely cast an eye over them several times a day to look for any signs of distress as a general rule. Every so often we may clip one of their wings to keep them from taking flight and getting lost. They are cleaned out weekly, and their waste and used straw is used for composting and fertiliser.

Illnesses / Diseases / Treatments

Here is a list of common illnesses, problems and how to treat them.

Avian/Fowl PoxBumblefootFowl CholeraImpacted/Pendulous CropInfectious BronchitisInfectious Coryza • Lice or MitesMoniliasis (Thrush) • Mycoplasmosis/CRD/Air Sac Disease • Pullorum • Sour Crop (Candidiasis)Splayed/Spraddled LegVitamin A Deficiency 

• Avian/Fowl Pox

Symptoms: White spots on skin, combs turn into scabby sores, white membrane and ulcers in mouth and/or on trachea, laying stops, all ages are affected. – Does not affect humans.

Treatment: There is a vaccine for unaffected birds, and while there is no cure for Avian Pox, you can ease the affected bird(s) symptoms.

  • Sanitize their drinking water
  • Treat scabs with a diluted iodine solution
  • Mix diluted iodine solution into drinking water (1 teaspoon of 1% iodine solution in 1 gallon of water)

• Bumblefoot (plantar pododermatitis)

Symptoms: Swelling, limping, lameness, sometimes redness and often a black/brown scab on the underneath of affected foot/feet.

Treatment: Requires surgery to treat. We recommend that you take the affected bird to your local vet: but if you do not have access to one, there are various help-videos that will show you the procedure on YouTube (don’t forget to sanitize!).

•Fowl Cholera

Symptoms: A highly contagious disease. Usually birds over 4 months old are affected – greenish/yellow diarrhea, breathing difficulties, swollen joints, darkened head and wattles, often a quick death – does not affect humans.

Treatment: Improve sanitation; the bacterium is easily destroyed by disinfectants and environmental factors. There are also drugs available from your vet, but note that the disease often recurs after treatment is stopped.

•Impacted / Pendulous Crop

Symptoms: Blockage in crop (it should empty over night). Feels like dough to the touch. Is normally caused by tough strands of grass.

Treatments: In a mild case; give bird only water for 24-48 hours. In a serious case; contents of the crop can be softened by turning the bird upside-down and massaging the crop. There is a risk of the bird choking, so you must allow the bird a chance to catch its breath in between attempts.

•Infectious Bronchitis

Symptoms: Coughing, sneezing, gasping, watery discharge from nose and eyes, hens stop laying.

Treatments: There is no treatment for this disease. Secondary infections with bacterial diseases are common and antibiotics may reduce losses from these infections. The virus is easily destroyed by heat and ordinary disinfectants. Survivors of the IB virus tend to be carriers, so some chicken-keepers advise to get rid of the flock entirely, then clean and disinfect pens/housing and start again.

• Infectious Coryza

Symptoms: Swollen heads, combs and wattles. Eyes swollen shut, sticky discharge from nose and eyes, moist area under wings, hens stop laying.

Treatments: There are a number of drugs that are used to treat this disease which can be found at the vets. Some chicken-keepers advise that prevention is the only form of control of this virus, as it is passed from bird to bird. Separate infected birds from the flock.

• Lice / Mites

Symptoms: Dirty-looking vent feathers, decreased activity or listlessness, pale comb, changes in appetite, low egg production, weight-loss, feather-pulling, bald spots, redness/scabs on skin…

Treatments: A brilliant way to treat this issue is to provide wood-ash for your chickens to dust-bathe in. There are also poultry sprays that you can buy. Also, you can apply petrolium jelly to affected birds to prevent any of the mite/lice eggs from hatching and causes them to fall off.

• Moniliasis (Thrush)

Symptoms: White, cheesy substance in crop. Ruffled feathers, droopy-ooking birds, poor laying, white/crusty vent area, inflamed vent area, increased appetite.

Treatments: There is an antimycotic drug that can be used on affected birds: ask your vet about it. Poor sanitation can affect the whole flock, so be sure that pens / houses are cleaned properly & frequently.

• Mycoplasmosis/CRD/Air Sac Disease

Symptoms: Mild form – weakness and poor laying in affected birds. Acute form – breathing problems, coughing, sneezing, swollen & infected joints, death.

Treatments: Lowered stress, reduced dust and cleaned coops, as well as proper nutrition and antibiotic treatment – this can help affected birds, though it will not kill the disease. There are also a number of drugs which can be attained from a vet which should help against the infection.

• Pullorum

Symptoms: Chicks are inactive, may have white diarrhea with pasted rear-ends. Breathing difficulties. Some may die without showing any symptoms. In older birds: coughing, sneezing, shrivelled combs, excessive thirst, poor laying.

Humans can get infected, chiefly by eating infected meat or eggs – especially if not cooked properly.

Treatments: None – very high mortality rates. Vets advise euthanization of entire flock because of quick spread of infection. Prevention: keep pens / housing clean and dry.

• Sour Crop (Candidiasis)

Symptoms: Causes the mucous membrane in the crops to swell, giving the affected bird the appearance of having something apple-sized lodged in the neck. The overgrowth of yeast can also create lesions in crop, esophagus and mouth.

Treatments: Withhold water for 12hrs, and food for 24hrs. After the first 12hrs of no water, give clean, clear water with no additives. Continue observation. If after 24hrs the crop has not emptied, only give clean water. Do not feed bird solid food until the crop has emptied. Use a dropper to give the bird olive oil through the beaks, then massage the crop.

• Splayed / Spraddled Leg

Symptoms: Affects newly-hatched chicks. Feet pointing to the side, legs twisted out from the hip and remain in that position until corrected.

Treatment: The legs of the affected chick must be restricted – bandaged in the proper position. This will provide stability to the chick, and will allow the chick’s bones / muscles to grow and strengthen in the correct position.

• Vitamin A Deficiency

Symptoms: Birds develop a crusty material in their nostrils / eyelids that progresses into a cheesy material.

Treatments: Supplement chicken feed with Vitamin A at least 2 or 4 times higher than normal, for at least 2 weeks. A Vitamin A solution is also available to buy, which can be added to the bird’s water supply.

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