Why do we need another chicken blog or forum?

Many chicken forums are moderated to sell commercial feed, chemicals and ideology.
I prefer to find my own balance between nature, welfare and cost in raising happy chickens.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

'natural chicken' blog now at 'permachicken'

Hi everyone,

in case you haven't noticed, or are coming to this blog from elsewhere, you can find the blog now at www.permachicken.com, with the forum there as an extra tab ('forum').

I'll leave 'the natural chicken' blog here and check in from time to time, but the new blog ('permachicken') will be where I make all new posts.

Thank you to Blogger for its useful software and hosting.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

meat x layer x layer chicks, natural diet

Just an update on my bunch of 21 (meat hybrid x leghorn) x commercial layer chicks.

These birds are growing exceptionally well on the home diet, which contains wheat, corn and pea sprouts, sunflower seeds (whether sprouted or not), lucerne (alfalfa), seaweed meal, salt, shell grit and of course my favourite, kefir made from powdered milk.

Bearing in mind they're a day short of 7 weeks, I think you'll agree the growth is really good so far:

Gobbling grass.

Very like a leghorn, this fellow.

We like to know what's going on...

Strapping pullet.

Nicely grown cockerel; remember these birds are only one quarter meat hybrid, and the rest is leghorn and layer.

Oof, he's a big fellow!

A nice pullet, again taking after leghorn.

Accessing the feeder as well as the greens.

Pleasant day in the sun.

Happy in the tractor, not having to be on the alert for aerial predators.

Another pullet.

Inquisitive cockerels looking at my shoe. As I took the photo another jumped on my shoulder from behind. Charming!

Last but not least, sunbathing pullet doing a great impression of roadkill. :)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Permachicken is now up, and will stay up.


All right. It's been a long saga and I'm soooooo sorry to all those who joined only to find the website disappearing!

What happened was that iPage couldn't serve it properly, so there were long load times (up to 30 seconds at times) and at other times it simply wouldn't load.

I've now moved it to a new host. It's hard to find a good host (that's affordable) when so many review sites are faked. In the end I spent a whole day researching hosts to try to find one that was reputed to be good specifically for forums. Fingers crossed that the one I found is good.

So once again, I'm very sorry for the inconvenience and the stop-start-stop beginning to Permachicken. It will be a  great forum! Hang in there. :) And don't forget, it's now just 'www.permachicken.com', so you don't need to type 'forum'.

Best to everyone,

Sunday, April 1, 2012

milk-fed chicks feathering at super rate!

These chicks are 2 days short of 3 weeks of age. Note the advanced feathering (please forgive the tragic pen floor, but it rained unexpectedly last night)! Actually you should have seen them a week ago as then the advancement was more obvious.

Their parentage has a little to do with the amount of feather, but not everything. The father was meat hybrid x white leghorn; the mothers were a mix of commercial layers (black, white and red). While both parent birds could be expected to mature quickly, the feathering on these birds is quite advanced for such a young age.

Now as it happens, these birds have been raised with more kefir in the mix than usual. This is because I bought a new kitchen chopper just for processing sprouts etc for chick food, and for the machine to work the mix must be fairly wet.

The benefit of doing things this way is that I can mix up the adult feed, keep a bit leftover, bring it inside and add kefir and sometimes extra soy meal to make it higher in protein (and easier to digest) for the little ones. I'll admit the extra liquid caused a couple of cases of pasting (unusual otherwise) but all were fixed, and the benefit of quick feathering has been enormous.

I'm pretty convinced that the extra (100% natural) methionine in soured milk has caused these chicks to grow faster and feather earlier than usual. What a nice byproduct of feeding only natural vitamins!

Now to shift the chick tractor so the poor things aren't standing on wet soil!

Friday, February 24, 2012

useful bucket trap for rats

Since rats have been perching on the bucket rim to take soaking grains, I thought I'd have a go at making a bucket trap.

I've made a few in the past following internet directions, but none has worked. Rats are more than anything else creatures of habit, and the sudden appearance of an oil-smeared bottle sitting above a water-filled bucket makes them wary. I suspect these traps only work when there are so many rats around the place that some (particularly young ones) are absolutely desperate for food.

Last night I filled the soaking bucket so the water sat about 7.5 inches or 19cm from the top. Then I sprinkled a layer of sunflower seeds to float on top.

This morning I collected 3 large dead rats from the water. About a third the sunflower seeds had been eaten, so perhaps the seeds were a little too close to the top (some have probably eaten their fill and gotten away), but still, it's a good result.

I doubt this will work for long if I keep setting the trap in the same way. However every few nights I'll make sure the grain is right at the top of the bucket so any remaining rats can obtain a feed. Meanwhile of course I'm removing all other food sources before nightfall.

Hope this works for others as well!

Friday, February 17, 2012

chick diet

Just wanted to show my current chick diet for the 9 week olds. They're extremely well grown and are doing well on it, having been gradually introduced to larger kernels (so I no longer have to grind anything for them).

Ingredients are sprouted wheat, corn, peas and sunflower seeds; soy meal (non GM); lucerne (alfalfa) chaff; seaweed meal; salt; and soured skim milk.

Of an afternoon they also get fresh greens to pick at. I'm extremely happy with their growth (below).

Some malay coming through in the bird on the left. Her mother was the ISA brown x malay game.

Leghorn x red layer, well grown and healthy at 9 weeks.

A little bit of malay game gives this cockerel a nice shape and stance. He's heavier than the cockerel in the previous picture, even though he's trimmer to look at. His mother was the ISA brown x malay; his father was leghorn.

These birds are well grown for 9 weeks of age, and have nice temperaments to boot.

home grown extras for chickens

Chickens love comfrey, yet seem to know their limit. It grows well in shade as well as sun, and supplies a variety of vitamins including B12 (though whether it's the most useful form of B12 I'm not sure). It's also a rich source of minerals and was known as 'knitbone' in former days. Much is made of its toxicity (it's apparently got some chemicals that are liver-toxic) but I've never seen the chickens gorge on it, nor have they come to harm. (They never had access to comfrey when they showed liver damage while eating lupins, or perhaps I'd have suspected comfrey.) I think chickens are extremely good at knowing what to eat or not eat, and I trust them on comfrey.

Overgrown zucchinis make great chicken treats. Just slit them lengthwise and watch!

...my rotting wheat update, and more on rats...

Unfortunately this post also concerns rats.

Recently I had major trouble with wheat not sprouting, and going off in the sprouting bag. My first assumption was that rats were climbing over the bag, contaminating it with droppings and urine, and thereby causing the wheat to go off. However after I'd dealt effectively with the rats nibbling through the bag, the off wheat continued, so I felt it must have been pre-germinated or otherwise damaged before purchase (see my other post about off wheat).

Once I stopped rats getting to the sprouting bag it seemed there could be no other source of micro-organism contamination. My soak times were always 24 hours, never more, and the ratio was 3/4 water to 1/4 grain (important to prevent fermentation). My feed bins were in good shape and generally air-tight. The wheat was brought fresh. Weather wasn't a problem as it hadn't been too hot. Perplexingly, shortly after being soaked, the wheat smelled rotten, not mouldy. I couldn't understand where the contamination was coming from, but it did seem bacterial.

Then I had a little thought. I looked at my soak-bucket and realised some of the grains (ones still trapped in a hull, and occasional sunflower seeds that had gotten mixed in) were floating on the surface of the water. I suddenly realised that this might be attracting rats to the water-filled bucket.

So that night, I put a lid on the bucket, and the next morning the lid was sprinkled with rat droppings. Then when I drained the wheat and hung it to sprout, it sprouted beautifully.

So this is what must have been happening all along:

- I was leaving the wheat to soak overnight without a lid, thinking that nothing could harm wheat sitting at the bottom of a water-filled bucket! The soaking wheat was a good 40cm below the water's surface. The water came right up to the brim.

- Apparently rats were perching on the bucket rim to snatch food floating on the water overnight. Some of their droppings would have fallen into the water.

- The rat droppings were causing the wheat to break down and rot faster than it could sprout.

This was a very sobering discovery, not least because the birds were sickened by eating what should have been perfectly good feed. And goodness knows what germs I'd been bumping into while handling the bag of feed and the rotting sprouts. Needless to say I owe the feed store an apology for casting aspersions on their grain.

I must admit, I'm astonished at the ability of rats to find food (and foul it). Unfortunately the neighbour's property provides ample cover (there's a huge lantana patch crowding against the fence) and these are tree rats, so very agile. But at least I can stop them fouling the water I soak my sprouts in!

Since adding a lid I've had no more smelly grain, no sick birds and plenty of eggs!

rats and how to deal with them

Confession! I have a persistent population of rats. They live in the scrub behind our back fence and slip over the fence during the night to eat any fallen food from the ground. I have to be very careful not to leave food lying around.

Every few weeks I rebait the trap and usually catch a few, but of course the really wary older rats are too clever for that little ruse. They won't touch baits, and although I'm scrupulous at cleaning up spilt food when I'm trying to catch them, they're amazingly smart.

Some time ago I realised they were shinnying down the 40cm long wire hook my sprout bag hangs on, and nibbling at the sprouts. I kept trying new places to hang the thing, only to see telltale bag-holes a few days later.

So I did this:

For a little extra detail, here's a close-up of the top arrangement:

The silver thing is an upturned stainless steel bowl bought cheaply from one of those two-dollar stores. I made a hole in the bottom and slid the wire through (after straightening it temporarily). Then I wrapped a rubber band around and around the wire just below where I wanted the bowl to sit. The rubber has a good purchase on the wire, so it doesn't tend to slide down, but to make sure, I added a layer of glue. Then I sat a disc of foam matting (purpose-cut and also threaded over the wire) to help ensure the stainless steel bowl doesn't tip too far when a rat climbs on top of it.

Since rats are coming along the beams in the shed roof and then clambering down (rather than jumping onto the bag from below) this is an effective barrier. They can climb onto the bowl but they can't get over the lip of it to reach the wire again.

There have been no more rat raids on the hanging sprouts!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

ancona x red layer at 19 weeks

Just a quick update on the ancona x too. She's half ancona, half red layer. The others of her hatch have more red feathering on their faces and chests, but I don't mind the basic black. And she's certainly very glossy!

The willow legs are also nice. All five ancona x red layer pullets have these.

Here's a completely gratuitous head shot of one of the commercial bred ISA browns I bought at point of lay (but which have only just started). I do quite like the white streaking. She seems like a nice well behaved bird. Her beak was clipped before I got her (often birds raised away from soil or other abrasive materials get very overgrown beaks by 20 weeks).

meat hybrid x leghorn rooster and pullet

Just thought I'd show how the meat hybrid x leghorn experiment is going.
I'm happy with both cockerels and pullets (though I've only ended up with two of each, after various troubles getting the incubator to hatch anything at all).
So here they are.

These birds are enormous, but not massively overweight. They can jump up 600mm to perch, and are just as adept at getting down. In fact (combs aside) they remind me of the way Indian game (Cornish) used to be, full of
power and vigour.

They're also of the right temperament. In fact they're better than many male birds I've kept, as I'm having no great trouble keeping both cockerels in the one pen. This may change as they mature, but basically they ignore each other most of the time. And needless to say they don't show any signs of turning on me, nor are they what I'd call 'too tame' (often a precursor to human-aggression).

They're not quite 19 weeks of age, and one of the pullets laid an egg today, so that's pretty good going.

Fingers crossed!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

providing protein for layers without poor mineral balance

I've been very happy with the growth of my ancona x red layers and my meat hybrid x leghorns. When I bought the new commercial layers I was anything but happy with them. At nineteen weeks of age they were only a fraction larger than my twelve week old ancona x and meat hybrid x birds. I now suspect they were a little under the stated age, as their combs were also quite poorly developed for age.

To complicate things, shortly after this there came the setback with bad wheat, and all my birds suffered. While on the suspect wheat, the ancona and hybrid x birds stopped increasing in size at the rate they had, and their combs stopping growing larger. Meanwhile the commercial layers are only just starting to lay now (at 23 weeks). What a drama!

But with onset of lay comes a new problem: how to add protein without upsetting the mineral balance of layers.

My usual practice with chicks (milk based protein to offset a wheat-soy base) isn't practicable with adult layers. This is because they need a massively enriched calcium level. However while milk is high in calcium it's also fairly high in phosphorus. The problem with high phosphorus levels is that phosphorus competes with calcium for absorption; thus the wrong ratio quickly produces problems like soft shelled eggs. I probably don't need to spell out the problems that can come from soft shelled eggs, but egg yolk peritonitis is a common one and it's deadly.

Free ranging the birds is a great way to get them to find their own greens and protein, in which case the pressure on the diet to be complete is a lot lower. Not only will they find a lot of calcium via greens, but they'll also eat insects that will supply omega-3 fats and calcium from shells alongside high protein.

Thus I've been braving the goshawks and letting the adult birds out every day for several hours at a time. It's no surprise that a day after they started being let out, one and then another began to lay.

Once again, in view of milk's problems mineral-wise, I've been looking for other cheap animal protein sources. As in earlier posts I've been thinking through the gamut of choices: worms; pet mince (good but may have sulphites that need to be washed out, and is almost invariably too fatty); normal butcher mince (expensive); and of course high protein scraps.

As it happens I've found a pretty good butcher shop that sells whole lamb livers very cheaply ($1.50), so that's being given every 2-3 days in small quantities. But on other days I'm relying on either scraps or whatever the birds rummage up. They're also getting small amounts of kefir in their feed (but only a quarter of what the chicks get, per bird), and of course they have soy meal. Given that they're starting to lay after their bad wheat setback I'm pleased that this is all working. One whole lamb liver is lasting me two weeks, so it's not exactly an expensive addition, and the scraps and insect forage cost me nothing at all except a little bit of worry when it comes to goshawks.

As for goshawk deterrence, I simply haven't seen the old boy around in a while, so perhaps he's decided to range elsewhere. Or it may be that having two near-adult roosters out and about now is keeping the divebombers at bay. There's also a new trampoline giving the chickens somewhere to hide where they can still peer out at the sky. Lastly, the ancona x have inherited their father's flightiness, and are rapidly scurrying for cover at every blink. Which isn't a bad thing in this backyard!

So that's a bit of a roundup more than a proper discussion of protein, but I hope it's reasonably clear.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Little case of cocci in a chick: UPDATE

Still no signs of cocci in any of the chicks that remained here, so that's positive. We've had many days of rain and the pen has definitely been warm and damp, but the chicks are handling it. Good news.


The other day I sold a handful of chicks, and the new owner rang me up the next day to say one was sick. Clearly she has cocci (and after I suggested what to buy, the chick apparently came good again). The stress of transport probably contributed, but I don't think it's a major factor.

Now I confess I've been a bit lazy with the latest chicks, and have put them in the large pen from four weeks of age without taking off the surface litter, and to top it off we've had a week of heavy summer rain. However none of the remaining chicks in the pen now are showing signs of cocci, nor have the other sold chicks succumbed, so the pen isn't the problem in itself, nor is the rain, nor is transport stress.

Normally if one bird has coccidiosis the others will show signs either at the same time or a little later. When you get one chick with coccidiosis while the others are well, it could be a sign that the sick bird has other underlying illnesses (whether congenital or infective).

Which brings me to a new thought. Although I've stated that the chicks were fed bran/pollard instead of sprouts, that's not strictly true -- they did get some. It's just that their staple diet was made up using the bran/pollard. This little girl may have been unlucky enough to eat more than her share of the bad wheat, or to be unable to cope with its effects on her digestive system, predisposing her to secondary ailments. Marek's is another possibility, though I've never seen classical Marek's signs, so it's fairly unlikely.

I'm just putting this 'out there' so anyone reading this blog will realise (if they haven't already) how many co-factors there are in managing coccidiosis; and sometimes it may be that a bird simply doesn't have the immune strength to cope with moderate challenges. If the other chicks had been sick I'd be saying the opposite and going hell for leather to clean up the pen and improve management. But it's not as simple as management in this case, I feel.

Naturally I've offered to swap the sick bird for another, but the new owner is happy to keep her. I hope she stays well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

When feed goes bad...


I took the remaining wheat back to the shop and they gave me a replacement bag. That doesn't help my birds, but it's good enough (and frankly I was surprised that the store attendant took me seriously). However I think she soon realised it wasn't coccidiosis and I do know what I'm talking about.

At any rate, three days after removing the suspect wheat, I'm seeing my first eggs from these layers. The two (rooster and hen) that were ailing have improved to being indistinguishable from the others.

It's a great relief, but also a reminder as to how easy it is to forget a basic principle (the basic principle being, examine feed closely and don't use it if there's anything amiss). Wheat that doesn't sprout well is surely a huge sign of a problem.

Silly me, but it's fixed now... hopefully.


A couple of weeks ago my usual grain store was shut, so I bought 2 bags of wheat from the more expensive place up the road.

Straight away it went into plastic drums with good lids, so I had no reason to think there would be any problem. However I noticed over the following week that this wheat doesn't soak up water quite as well as normal, and its sprouting rate is somewhat reduced. That is, only about half the grain will sprout at all, and it's usually beginning to moulder before the second day. I've never had wheat behave like this before, and I've been sprouting for years now!

Meanwhile some point of lay birds I got earlier have still not come into lay and two of the commercial meat hybrids had a few days in which I could see that they weren't well. Both carried their tails low and were a little listless.

The little chicks are eating exactly the same food as the older birds, with one difference: instead of sprouted wheat forming the chief grain, they've been getting mainly bran and pollard (mixed with all the other things I usually mix). They've also been given extra soy and kefir. They're doing incredibly well and look absolutely super.

I've realised the wheat is most likely very old, and has been improperly stored, or damaged, perhaps by beginning to germinate some time ago. Whatever the case, it's bad.

Now that can happen with other feeds as well, so please don't be put off sprouting. If I look close I can see that this wheat is slightly greyer than usual, and has a dimpled appearance, as though it's been withered. I can't see signs of weavils (which I've had in the past when wheat is poor) but it does appear the seed coat is damaged. Most importantly though, it's barely sprouting even though conditions are perfect (good clean water at 3/4 of the bucket, only 1/4 being wheat; good storage here; hanging in shade; and daily rinsing).

If I haven't poisoned my birds completely, I should start seeing eggs within a week or so of taking that wheat out of their diets...

But it's a wake-up call, at any rate.