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Winter Poultry Care

The answer to the poet’s ques­tion of, “What is so rare as a day in June?” was, until recently, a farm fresh egg in the middle of winter. Egg laying was essentially a seasonal activity and was greatest only when the hours of daylight lengthened.

Egg output increased as producer experi­ence and skills increased and were motivated by the demand for eggs in the cooler months when baking is increased and appetites are heartier. Take stock of your flock facilities and management techniques for successful winters to come.

Lighting 

Earlier egg producers learned to make the most of what nature of­fered them. Poultry houses were built with larger southern-facing walls, of­ten with large numbers of windows to catch as much of the thin winter sunlight as possible. They were white­washed inside each fall as both a sani­tary measure and to further amplify the light factor inside the building.

When electricity became more available many began to light their laying houses to stimulate egg produc­tion in the darker, gray months. It is a practice that continues with good effect though not always done well. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Dirt Hog

By Kelly Klober

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an Acres U.S.A. book, Dirt Hog, written by Kelly Klober. Copyright 2007, softcover, 320 pages. Regular price: $25.00.

Hogs are actually very social animals and are quite safe and easy to handle, as long as you avoid situations that are too forced or overly rushed. Most farmers, for example, will feed the animals over a fence not because of any perceived ferociousness, but because hogs have a tendency to function as a group and curiously crowd around any source of activity near them.

Dirt Hog by Kelly Klober

Dirt Hog, by Kelly Klober

Make the animals in a lot or pasture aware of your approach by whistling, humming, or talking to them softly. One of my first jobs on the farm was as the officially designated hog caller. I thought it was a sign I was growing up, but my high, youthful voice uttering “whoa, sow” simply carried farther. I was a bipedal “hog whistle” of sorts.

The hog on the range in many ways functions as a free agent. It isn’t a wild or uncontrolled animal, but in some respects the hogs do get closer to nature and their animal origins.

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Flock Management for Increased Production

Decades ago the worth of a well-bred adult chicken or clutch of hatching eggs was believed to hold the same value as a working man’s wages for a day, highlighting the importance of proper flock management. The literature well into the 20th century carries accounts of breeding males regularly selling for three figures, a good many for low four figures, and top producing females were valued more highly than gold. And why not, for in a single year she could produce scores of her own kind.

What do the names B. Ketcham of Illinois, T. Perrine of Ohio, S. Conger of Indiana, F. McElheney of New York, T. Ludlow of Yonkers in New York, and W. Dakin of Ohio have in common?

A bit of an unfair question, but one I raise to make a point. All of the above were independent poultry breeders advertising in the November 1885 issue of a magazine called The Poultry Keeper. They raised, respectively, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Dark Brahmas, Wyandottes (the first was the Silver Laced variety), Brown Leghorns, Houdans and Black Langshans. Continue Reading →

How to Build a Portable Chicken Tractor

DIY Chicken Tractor

A modified chicken tractor at 37 Acres Farm in Camden, Ohio.

When building a chicken tractor, keep in mind that in any type of poultry containment the old rule of thumb is to provide at least 4 square feet of floor space per bird, although up to 6 square feet might prove beneficial for some of the larger breeds. There should also be plenty of head space to allow for free movement and natural activity.

Chickens have been used frequently to follow cattle across pasture; utilizing some of the lower, finer stemmed plant materials left behind by the true grazers; feeding on some insect life; and even helping to break down manure pats. They will still need to be offered a full feeding of a good laying ration to maintain desired levels of egg laying performance, however.

The challenges will be how to best tend the birds so contained and to protect them from predation. One- x 2-inch or 1- x 1-inch patterned, welded wire is a strong, durable choice, although it will add to the initial cost of construction. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Beyond the Chicken by Kelly Klober

 

Beyond the Chicken by Kelly Klober. Copyright 2014. 216 pages. Softcover. $24.00, regularly priced.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from pages 12-15 of the book, Beyond the Chicken, which was published by Acres U.S.A. Copyright 2014. #7309. Softcover. 216 pages. $24.00 regularly priced.

By Kelly Klober

The first question raised about bantam chickens is, “Of what good is a little chicken?” Certainly they are ornamental and have been taken up by many exhibition breeders for the challenge some of the colors and feathering patterns in bantams represent. And, for some, there is the challenge to produce a perfect large fowl in miniature. For the backyard poultry folks the little birds take up less space, there is a reduced noise level, some of the breeds are exceptionally docile, they are easier to contain, they are bred in great variety, and they eat much less. Three bantam eggs will replace two large fowl eggs in most recipes and as a serving size.

Our barn banties would begin taking to the nest in early spring, and we once had one small hen emerge from the hayloft with five little peeps on Christmas Eve. A few times each year we would make a late-night safari to the barn with burlap bag and flashlight in hand. There we would pluck surplus birds—mostly roosters—from rafters, gate tops, stall walls, and other roosting places. My grandparents would then dress the contents of two or three cackling, wriggling, and occasionally even crowing tow sacks. Mostly they went into big pots of winter day vegetable soup or chicken and dumplings. The latter was a favorite of Dad’s and one time, unbeknownst to us, she added a tray of store-bought chicken necks to a couple of the little roosters going into a big pot of dumplings. The second day into that particular pot Dad began his table grace by asking to be spared, in the future, from little banty roosters that were all neck.

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Breaking into the Egg Business

Perhaps the best place to begin a discussion about the egg business would be with the egg itself. There is just a nine-ounce difference between a dozen medium and a dozen jumbo eggs. A dozen large eggs, the standard in the retail mar­ketplace, weighs twenty-four ounces. A dozen medium eggs, commonly used in the food service sector, weighs twenty-one ounces—just three ounces less. These slight dif­ferences can become big factors when calculating what it costs to produce a dozen eggs.

table eggs

A six-pound hen that lays two or three eggs per week will eat as much as one that lays five or six.

Egg grades—AA, A, and B—have nothing to do with egg size or shell color. Rather they are used to rate shell cleanliness and uniformity and the condition of the egg’s interior. Under examination and candling, an AA egg will have a clean, unbroken shell with even shape and shell surface. The air cell will be 1/18th-inch or less in depth, and regular in shape. The white will appear clean and firm, and the yolk will be centered and free of defects.

An A-quality egg will also have a clean and unbroken shell. The air cell will be 1/4-inch or less in depth and fairly uniform. The white should be clear, although not quite as firm as that of the AA egg. The yolk should be fairly centered, have a more defined outline, and should also be free of de­fects such as meat or blood spots.

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