Citizen Scientist…Aha!

The chickens have been on my mind a lot lately for several reasons and I feel as if I’ve put a good deal of energy – both mentally and physically – into their status recently.

I was waiting for the weather to break a bit in order to add more sand to their run since we had put less in that section than I had originally intended. Their indoor space, aka the coop, had the original sand which was spread to about 3 inches deep on top of a concrete floor that has a sewer drain for periodic cleaning. Shortly after the chicks were given access to their outdoor run, we added a load of sand there on top of the dirt base but had always intended to add more. After experimenting with sand, I see it as the perfect foundation for both the run and the coop provided there are periodic additions of other things such as vines, grasses and sprouts.

In an effort to do a little fall housekeeping, we decided to take the sand from their coop and transfer it to the run and then add all new sand to the coop after a good clean up. So we hauled in another 800 pounds of fresh sand and after a mornings work we felt pretty satisfied. We also decided to put a new hose connection onto their drinking fountain since the original one was an old, recycled hose that had seen better days and was starting to leak on occasion due to the constant pressure.

It was not long after this that I discovered that Buttercup was the possible victim of some pecking. It was difficult to tell whether this hen had started to over-preen herself (often due to boredom) or was being pecked on by others, or both. Either way, I found her to have a small bare patch on the base of her back at her tail which is a typical spot for this type of pecking or over preening to occur. IMG_0199.jpgI put some Vetericyn on it and hoped for the best but the next morning I found it to be a larger area and later that day it was bloodied. This is a cause for immediate isolation. I plucked her (no pun) out of the flock, medicated the wound again and put her into a crate with food and water in my workshop.What to do next? No one else was showing signs of this. Was she lowest on the pecking order? Was this because she is now the only grey colored Easter Egger in the flock and a target? Easter Eggers are also the smallest of the hens we have and that wasn’t going in her favor either. In addition, she has always been a loner, keeping to herself and not one to participate in any of the ‘reindeer games‘.

I had been thinking of getting an additional medication called Blu-Kote that has been around for more than 40 years for use in animal husbandry. “Dr. Naylor’s brand Blu-Kote is a germ-killing, fungicidal wound dressing and healing aid that works to protect animals against common infections and pus-producing bacteria. It penetrates the skin and dries quickly, reducing pus formation and drying up secretions of pox-like lesions.” Yuck, I initially didn’t think I needed this as my answer but one of the reasons that Blu-Kote is successfully used for chickens is that it includes a dye that coats the surface area a deep indigo color (WARNING: it is semi permanent!) and disguises the wounded area by taking the irritated pink or redness flesh color away. Although I wanted to make sure this area of affliction didn’t become infected, I decided to use the spray mostly for the dye aspect of it.

So, after a day in isolation, I prepared to use the medication – by dressing in dark clothes that I didn’t care about getting dyed blue – and successfully sprayed Buttercup’s back with several spritzes of the liquid. After blowing on it a bit to dry, I let her back into the flock and she seemed to try to re-adjust. IMG_0346.jpgOf course the problem with taking any bird from the flock and isolating them for a time means that when re-introduced, they have been demoted in the pecking order which meant I had to keep a really sharp eye out for her safety. While taking time for keenly observing, I happened to notice that any loose feathers that the chicks came upon were being gobbled up by them. Good grief, what was this about? My role as ‘Citizen Scientist’ sent me back to the books for some research on feather eating.

Wouldn’t you know, feather eating can be a sign of protein deficiency in chickens. Aha! Feather eating can also be related to feather pecking since feathers are about 85% protein. Aha! Chicks go thru their first mini molt between the ages of 12 and 16 weeks. Aha! I knew that as the chicks age, their protein requirements change but it turns out I could do a few things to help in this area. Although the internet can be a good resource, I prefer to rely on two profoundly researched books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens and The Chicken Health Handbook  both by the renown author and chicken expert, Gail Damerow.

Gail cautions about adding too much protein to a chicken’s diet and certainly not to add more than 2% at any juncture. She says, “Compared to the protein in grains, animal proteins are rich in the amino acids a chicken needs during a molt.” She lists a bunch of foods and their protein percentages that can be used to supplement their regular diet. Her books introduced me to the common agricultural method (albeit mind blowing in terms of math) of adjusting rations correctly called Pearson’s Square. Run that thru your search engines and see what comes up!  (Seriously, do that and see what I was facing!) Who knew this could get so complicated!!! Here is an example of an explanation for calculating Pearson’s Square for one’s own uses. Aha! Believe me, there is nothing terribly simple about this.

So, I decided that I needed to address the probable protein deficiency incrementally while also addressing the method of delivering the new food. I knew this since whenever I gave treats such as meal worm (50% protein) there was a piggy contest to gobble it up fast and furious so those who got the most were the more aggressive birds and thus, the feed or treats was not equally distributed. I needed a ‘slow release’ method that would allow more of the flock to have equal access to the amount given and I needed to ration it slowly so that the 2% goal was true for all.

What a great excuse to go to the Tractor Supply Store where I knew I could find some of the added protein suggestions from Gail’s list. One of them was black oil sunflower seeds which I found in bulk. Although it is only 14% protein, it could go into my Pearson’s Square equation as an additive to my Start ‘n Grow ration which is 16%.

1027278.jpg I put a cup of this seed into a fairly standard cylindrical bird feeder with holes just big enough to contain the seeds and yet allow them to fall through when pecked at. Here they are giving it a go.

I also added a corn (6% protein) cob holder which I hung nearby for much of the same purpose and to allow for two stations of pecking to take place.

Here is the the combination of both attractions. Notice the sounds of the soft clucking which is music to the ears for all. 

After several days of wringing my hands over the status of the flock I was so pleased to see this copacetic group lounging in their run this afternoon. Buttercup is no longer hiding and has even joined in the fun and is enjoying the security that the group can provide when everything is in balance.IMG_0465 (1).jpg

At least for now! As the chicks approach their 15 week milestone, I am now researching the method and timing of opening their nests boxes (which have been blocked so far) in order to introduce them to their next adventure…egg laying! This is an overwhelming time to be a Citizen Scientist! Ha!

I need to report on the bees but will hold off for that until next time as one hive is still working on a self re-queening effort. My inspection and feeding of both colonies yesterday is keeping me in suspense as to the race to be ready for winter. At this juncture, it may actually be the ‘boy’ hive that is more prepared! More soon.

In the meantime, Coulter keeps us all amused. At 17 months, he is nearly the perfect age as he is fun and funny. He understands so much of what we are saying and his vocabulary is growing exponentially. Here he is in his new Levi jeans…cutest bottom around!

And climbing up on his new, dump truck step stool to wash his hands before lunch!

It is hard to believe he still fits in his swing, but he still loves to climb in and catch the breeze when he can! IMG_0333.jpg Dave had replanted much of the fall crops and is hard at work getting them to flourish now that the rains have lessened. Crossing fingers for a mild fall…updates to come.

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