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Light Sussex Chick!

Day 20 of the Light Sussex incubation and several eggs were pipped, and on the morning we had a new little friendThe first Light Sussex chick of 2016! Here’s a quick sneak peak at the first past the post, before we post something more substantial!

Electric Fencing

With us losing Ethelred our cock this spring to the fox, we’ve decided we can’t take any more chances, so we’ve moved to electric fencing to keep our various birds safe. In the little orchard the pen is pretty much the full extent of the quarter acre, so the impact on the chickens will be minimal. We’ve used the 110cm high poultry netting, which we’ve used as standard netting to contain the bantams for the last year, but we’ve added another 50m section to it, to produce a 25m x 25m area, powered by a 3.5 joules energiser and 75Ah leisure battery. It gives a reading of between 2,000 and 3,000kw, so it’ll do the job.

The geese, on the other hand, might not really need it, but we’ve done it to be safe. There are foxes around, and the easy pickings of dropped fruit will dry up over the next few months, so we feel it’s best they ‘learn’ our animals aren’t on the menu. Poultry netting is dangerous for geese as they tend to push their heads through fencing, and can easily get stuck in the smaller netting, dieing from electrocution 🙁 So for them we’ve erected a 5 strand fence powered by a 0.5J system, which gives a reading of around 4,000kW! We’ve also added a “hot-gate” system, so we can get in and out easily.

As we haven’t bought another cock in for the large hens, we’re going to run the two flocks together inside the chicken pen, and William the bantam can deal with them all! They’ll still have their own coops and, from experience, they’ll tend to stick to the coops they know.

Another job done ready for the winter!

Red Mite cause Chicken Holiday

Whilst visiting friends, they asked for some advice on their flock. Their coop had contracted red mite in a very bad way – and the housing was covered, but despite all attempts, the little blighters kept coming back.

We had a quick look and promptly offered to give the chooks a holiday at Merrybower, on clean ground and in clean houses. Seeing nothing else to give us great alarm, we knew it was highly unlikely the red mites would be on the birds during daylight hours whilst outside, so we wouldn’t be transferring any to our gaff.

2015 holiday chooks 2

Seven Warrens (one is laying inside)

On arrival, we put six, including Colin the cock, in a spare Eglu Cube, and seven in a spare Green Frog Designs Livestock Ark, which we used for chicks last year. We started them on a seven day course of Flubenvet, which was given ready-mixed in Marriage’s Farmyard Layers Pellets with integrated Flubenvet. Whilst they were caged in their runs, this would ensure they got a good worming dose. Noticing a bird with runnyish poos, we also gave them a three day course of Tylan Soluble antibiotic – 0.5g for every litre of water, mixed fresh every 24 hours. Noticing some also had scaly leg mite, we also dropped a spot of Ivermectin on the back of the neck of all of them, and will repeat that in three weeks’ time.

We think the big difference was the food. It’s possible that they’d been put off eating the food in their old coop because of the mite association, but for whatever reason, they tucked into the Marriage’s pellets like there was no tomorrow! They’re also going through the moult, which is a tough time for any bird. To help them along with that they had our special mix of mashed potato, live yoghurt, cod liver oil and poultry spice. It stinks, but boy do they love it! And the difference a few days later is amazing – they’re more relaxed and look much perkier, despite still looking rather bedraggled with their old feathers still intact.

2015 holiday chooks 1

Colin, three Warrens and, we think, a Light Sussex hen and a Buff Orpington hen.

For any regulars reading this, Colin the cock is actually one of our boys bred last year, so he’s returned home! We haven’t mentioned this, but Red, his brother that we kept, was killed by a fox this spring. It was an upsetting thing for us all, made worse in that he was the last in the bloodline of our flock. But with Colin here we might be able to ‘borrow’ him for another brood next year, if all goes well. We still don’t know Colin as well as we knew Red, who was very gentle, but none of us have been pecked by Colin, even when handling him and his ladies for scaly leg mite, so it looks promising so far.

Keeping our chickens happy over winter

With the inclement weather we’ve been having recently in the UK, I had to gen up rather quickly on ways and means to keep our chickens happy and content over winter. Temperatures were dropping overnight to around -10 Celsius, and whilst their body temperatures will keep the small coop warm to a degree (large enough to house 4 birds maximum, with there only being three in there) I felt they needed more help. I empathised for a few brief seconds and came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t like it out there so we had to do something.

First thing was their diet. They have layers pellets every day, ad lib, and fresh water. They also have free range on grass,  so after they’ve eaten tasty green stuff they fill up on the pellets. When it gets cold I also give them grain on an evening before shutting them up in the coop – this gives their crop something to work on over night and helps keep them warm with their own generated heat. In the summer they have this as a treat, about an eggcup-full for each bird, but over the winter I’ve given them ever-so-slightly more as I figured seeing as though their egg production is non-existent, they probably didn’t need as many of the layers pellets as usual and the bodyweight they might  gain from slightly more grain (mixed wheat, maize, etc) would be beneficial over their first winter outside the battery farm – especially seeing as though their feathers weren’t entirely covering them still.

Each day when it was really cold, around 3 Celsius or under, we used some leftover potato peelings, carrot peelings or parsnip peelings, or even a whole potato (their favourite), and made a mash up. To this I also added:

A tablespoon of live yoghurt to help their digestive system

A teaspoon of codliver oil (I started this in the summer to help them utilise their calcium for egg shell production, but with the low sunlight in the winter and they still insist on producing some eggs, I figured I might as well keep giving it them)

A teaspoon of Poultry Spice – a delicious blend of all your chook’s favourite spicy things – a bit like a multi-vit for poultry which helps them to get over the moult.

A dash of apple cider vinegar in their water – probably about a couple of teaspoons in 2 litres. At the same time I usually have a teaspoon myself in a glass of hot water, mixed with a teaspoon of honey. Slurp. The apple cider vinegar will help with worms and also keeps the water algae free, not that that is going to happen if you change it regularly!

So that’s their treat – I serve it slightly warm still, thinking it’s probably a bit like going out in to the cold on a full belly of porridge, except it stinks to high heaven.

As far as the coop is concerned – I read about an ingenious idea of mimicking foliage by dangling several mop heads in the coop so they can snuggle up to them as if they were dangly duvets. They were a bit worried when these alien beings were discovered having taken over their coop, but after a few days they were like teenagers in the mornings – faces buried into the mops to stay warm. Fantastic! We also went on a scrounge for an old-fashioned hot water bottle – the ceramic type so easy to clean – and filled that with boiling water to place in the coop. The design of our coop meant we could place it in the nest box from outside at night, and keep it separate from the main perches by a piece of styrene so the daft birds didn’t snuggle up to too close. If the night was really cold I’d go out again just before midnight to refill it.

Lastly we gave all their combs a good covering of vaseline to prevent frostbite, and made sure their water was always free of ice so they could quench their thirst.

Doing all these thing perked them up no end and I think kept them happier than they would otherwise have been. I still wouldn’t have traded their coop for my own bed though 😉