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Poultry Advice

The following advice is offered from my own experience having kept poultry for many years and from reading many books and magazines on the subject. You may find different advice elsewhere but this has worked for me! We aim to add to the pages on a regular basis with topical advice and display it alphabetically by topic. If there is a subject you would like to see included by all means email us with suggestions and we will see what we can do…

Topics to be covered in the future may include:

  • Aggressive cockerels
  • Bedding
  • Broodies (unwanted)
  • Buying birds
  • Cockerel treading damage
  • Crooked toes
  • Egg colours
  • Feather pecking
  • Feeding
  • Lice
  • Moulting
  • Nest boxes
  • Perches
  • Prolapse
  • Red mite
  • Scaly leg mite
  • Soft shelled eggs
  • Storing eggs
  • Wing clipping
  • Worms and worming your birds

Frostbite
Frostbite in large-combed breeds can be a very real threat to the health of your birds in the winter time and is preventable through careful management. It can occur in both cockerels and hens but those with larger upright combs tend to be more susceptible. With temperatures here down to -14ºC this winter so far, it is something we all need to look out for.

What does frostbite look like?
It tends to occur when conditions are freezing and most commonly affects the extremities or tips of the comb which become bluey-purple and will turn black in severe cases; the bird will appear dull and uncomfortable. The affected portion can crust and fall off leaving a tender and often bleeding section of comb which is open to infection. If left unattended it will heal over time but can attract the attentions of other birds in the run who are drawn to the blood and will pick on the newly formed scabs to make them bleed. If left, this can lead to cannibalism.

Recovering from frostbite

How to avoid frostbite:
When conditions are freezing (day or night) or there is snow on the ground, make sure the birds are as comfortable as possible.  If there are shutters on the windows, close them to keep warmth in the house - but don’t shut off all forms of ventilation. Keep the bedding clean and dry as the birds are likely to spend more time in the house, particularly if there is snow on the ground, and could be vulnerable to respiratory infections if conditions are allowed to become damp and ammonia rich. Ensure birds have ample head room when perching so that their combs are not in physical contact with the cold roof or sides of the house when they could literally freeze to the surface and tear their combs when they move. Finally, apply Vaseline to the comb regularly as this seems to help as a barrier (I keep a separate pot for birds vs. household use).

What to do if you have a bird with frostbite:
Separate him from other birds, bring him in to a warmer shed or outbuilding and ensure he has access to feed and water - preferably in an open feeder where he will not bump his comb each time he goes to drink or feed. Bathe the affected section of comb with soft cotton wool and warm salty water to remove any crusted blood, then carefully dry and apply either Vaseline if the surface is not broken, or an antiseptic ointment designed for livestock use such as F10 barrier cream. Repeat this until the comb appears to have healed - this can take up to 2 weeks or more. If the comb looses any of its serrations, they are unlikely to re-grow. Only return the bird to the presence of others once there is no longer an open wound to attract their attention. Once recovered, your bird may no longer be a show beauty but should be able to continue a normal life.

What to do with unwanted broodies?
Personally, I am delighted when one of my hens goes broody as we hatch a lot of eggs and broodies tend to have greater success rate and rear the chicks for free! However, if you don't want to hatch your own chicks, they can be a problem and they won't give up easily. When a hen goes broody, her temperature raises and she looses feathers on her breast so that they can contact the eggs. She will sit in the nest and not move, puff up her feathers and peck/tell you off if you try to shift her. If left to her own devices, broodies will block the nest to other birds leading to floor-laid eggs, they will steal eggs from neighbouring boxes and if you are selling eggs for eating you don't want part incubated eggs getting mixed in. More serious is that she will not eat properly and can literally waste away if not dealt with, especially if there are red mite in the house which will feast on her; it is unfair to leave her broody and hope that she will give up. I had a hen sit determinedly for 7 weeks once before I relented and gave her eggs which she went on to hatch.
So what to do? The only reliable way to break a broody is to cool her down. Options include: keeping her in a secure draughty place with food and water. I use a wire cage suspended off the ground out of reach of the fox, generally referred to as the 'sin bin'. Breezy days are great and a couple of days in here should break her determination as the draught can get right under her. I have seen purpose made boxes too, but they must be secure from the fox. Failing that I have heard of slipping freezer packs in the nest box under her, or one old poultry keeper told me to dunk her bottom in a bucket of water to cool her down! Let us know if you have any other tricks?

Recommended poultry reading:
Over the years we have amassed a fair collection of poultry related books. Some that we can recommend are:

  • ‘Starting with Chickens; A Beginners Guide’
  • ‘Free-Range Poultry’
  • ‘Incubation: A Guide to Hatching and Rearing’ all by Katie Thear
  • ‘The Complete Encyclopaedia of Chickens’ by Esther Verdhoef & Aad Rijs (European emphasis but very comprehensive – lots of breed photos)
  • ‘British Poultry Standards’ edited by Victoria Roberts (expensive - £50+ - but a bible for breed descriptions)
  • ‘Poultry Breeds and Management: An Introductory Guide’
  • ‘Exhibition Poultry Keeping’
  • ‘Rare Poultry Breeds’
  • ‘Popular Poultry Breeds’ all by David Scrivener
  • ‘Diseases of Free-Range Poultry’ by well known poultry vet Victoria Roberts
  • ‘The Illustrated Guide to Chickens: How to Choose Them - How to Keep Them’ by Celia Lewis - a beautifully illustrated book (featuring some of our birds) and well organised advice and text.
  • ‘Practical Poultry Keeping’ by David Bland
  • Practical Poultry’ monthly Magazine
  • Country Smallholding’ magazine poultry pages

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