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Broody Hen

Broody chicken

Broody Hen – a blessing or a curse?

Broody hen season is upon us. This is where your chickens sit and sit and sit and sit. Even when you lift the hen out of her nest she remains in a sitting position like she has lost the use of her legs.

I have been waiting for any of my girls to go broody because the easiest way to care for eggs and then chicks is to get a mother hen to do it for you. It’s the lazy persons way, but the best and most natural way to raise chicks.

How do you know your hen is broody?

She will be making a noise that sounds like “clock” “clock” “clock. She will be flattened in the nest box. You may get pecked when you try to remove her as broodies can get rather moody and irritable. Every time you look for her she will still be there in residence.  When she moves around she will look and sound angry to the other hens and they will most likely attack her for her insolence if she is far enough down the pecking order.

What can you do to stop her being broody

Either you want her to hatch eggs, in which case add some fertile eggs under her. This is best done at night if she is a bit cantankerous. Or you will need to “break” her out of her broody phase.

Contrary to popular belief, broodies are not hot. Their body temperature is normally a little higher than our own. An egg needs incubating at 37.5C which is cooler than a hens normal temperature. Eggs overheat at the normal chicken temp so it would be a fair assumption that a broody is actually cooler than a normal hen. She will pluck her breast feathers so that she has less insulation.

To break her you will need to keep her in a cage such as a dog cage with a wire bottom. This is to make her uncomfortable and unable to nest. Put food and water in her cage as she will need to be kept in there day and night for at least 2 days. It is important she is safe from predators and the weather. Test her after 2 days. If she returns to her nest, add another day in the “broody gaol” until she is no longer wanting to sit.

You can also prevent her from getting anywhere she can make a nest by locking her out. Your other hens will need access to the nests however. She can go back in with the others overnight if you wish but turf her out each day until she gives up. Cage will take 2-4 days, lockout will take about the same.

Why do I need to break her

Broodies that do not have a job to do will only eat and drink once a day. They will lose condition if allowed to sit indefinitely. Some breeds can literally broody themselves to death. Either let her hatch or break her. She may have repeated episodes of broodiness if she is particularly prone to it. Silkies, Pekins, Wyandottes, Sussexes, Orpingtons are some of the most broody breeds.  If you are unhappy feeling cruel to be kind, then it is a good idea to avoid getting any of the above breeds.

 

 

How to keep your chickens warm this winter

Keeping chickens warm from the beast from the East is on everyone’s lips at the moment.  So what problems does this cause for chicken keepers? How do you keep chickens warm in the winter? The quick answer is that chickens are covered in their own feather duvets.  They are well able to keep themselves warm without any additional aids or methods.

Frostbite in below freezing temperatures may be an issue for hens or cockerels with large combs on their heads. As chickens remove the warm blood from their combs as the temperature plummets. This causes the comb to become cooler and vulnerable to frostbite. A slick of Vaseline over the fleshy parts will assist in keeping the comb protected. Keeping the coop ventilated will also help to keep it condensation free. It is the condensation which freezes and makes the combs succumb to ice crystals generated by the condensation. You will be helping in keeping chickens warm by making sure they stay dry also.

Chickens naturally cover their tootsies by lowering their feathers as they crouch down to roost overnight. This and tucking their heads under their wings help them keep their extremities warm and toasty. The picture above from a thermal imaging camera shows where the most heat loss is for chickens. Their heads and feet are showing up brighter. Their bodies are not losing much heat at all due their feathery coverage.

The most pressing issue for chickens in this weather is to keep their water free from ice so they can actually drink. Check on their water during the day to make sure. A heat plate or heated wire introduced into the drinker can assist in regions particularly affected by the cold wintery breath of the “beast”.

A chickens’ metabolism is active all night, so you can add a handful of  mixed corn to their diet late afternoon before bedtime. This heats them up from the inside as they digest it while they roost. It is tempting to give them warm porridge or any other warm human food, however, oats has the effect of cooling them down as it happens so is counter productive.

First chicks of the season

I have uploaded a video of some of our first chicks for the 2018 season. Female only guaranteed. Price is £7 each at day old however the price increases by £1 per week to take account of feed and cleaning costs. They are beautiful and sooo cute. We include full instructions with every sale and support via email or telephone whenever you need it.

We have 10 different kinds; all female. They are top quality commercial quality hybrids. Eggs are a-plenty with these girls. They make ideal pets or allotment birds. Contact us for details.

What is a Hybrid

Hybrid chicks are produced normally to go into the egg trade as they are very reliable layers. They are created by specific hatcheries to a secret recipe using specially selected strains of parent stock. This way the egg producers can get the most eggs out of one bird. This is not something we necessarily agree with on many levels but in a home or allotment setting where they are loved and cared for as part of the family, they can live very happy lives.

Many places sell hybrids that are raised by the barnfull in their thousands. This gives little opportunity to have any meaningful human contact. They pile them high and sell them cheap. We buy the birds in at day old and raise them at home. They get lots of time to interact with people and are confident and non-skittish by the time they are sold.

A hybrid crossed with a hybrid won’t produce the same bird as its offspring.  A pure breed mated to the same pure breed will result in another copy of the parents. This means they breed true. Hybrids don’t breed true but pure breeds do breed true.  A crossbreed (as in our Hedgerow Homemades) are random pairings which also do not breed true, but don’t produce any prescribed results as in the meticulously designed hybrids. Crossbreeds are therefore happy accidents and the colours and characteristics you get are quite an addiction as you never know what you are going to get.

Our current hybrid stock

Bird Flu detected Warwickshire Jan 2018

As we suspected Bird Flu has reached our shores again this year from the migrating birds from Europe and beyond. As a consequence the whole of England (not currently Scotland, Wales or Ireland) has been placed in a National Avian Influenza Prevention Zone until further notice. This does not prevent movement or sales of birds, only that you must comply with the details below. Where there is an outbreak there is a no-movement rule. No birds in or out. We are not restricted on movement yet. There is a very stiff fine/imprisonment for those found to be not sticking to the rules.

Yes it does include you

Let us be very clear, at the risk of sounding authoritarian. This is mandatory, you cannot let your birds into any areas where wild birds or vermin could have been. Disinfect everywhere. Cover your runs, cover your feeders and drinkers. If you cannot cover then you should use netting to exclude any other creatures that can carry contamination. If your birds get infected, then they will be culled along with any others in the vicinity. That’s if they are not dead already. Bird flu kills quickly. Protecting your birds is also protecting others too. Its the responsible thing to do also. The official notification is below:-

Bird Flu Detected Warwickshire in Wild Birds

Highly pathogenic H5N6 bird flu has been detected in wild birds in Warwickshire.

This is the second confirmed finding of the virus in the UK this winter, following the finding in Dorset earlier this month (January 2018). Tests have shown both cases are closely related to the H6N6 strain circulating in wild birds across Europe in recent months.

This is different to the H5N6 strain which affected people in China last year and Public Health England have advised the risk to public health is very low. The Food Standards Agency have also offered reassurance that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

A National Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has been declared for the whole of England.

This means it is mandatory for all captive bird keepers in England to put enhanced biosecurity measures in place. Further information can be found on GOV.UK. This Zone will be in place until further notice and will be kept under regular review as part of our work to monitor the threat of bird flu.

It is vital that anyone who keeps birds, whether a few in a back garden or thousands on a commercial unit is vigilant. All poultry keepers should:

  • minimise movement in and out of bird enclosures
  • clean footwear before and after visiting birds, using a Government approved disinfectant at entrances and exits
  • clean and disinfect vehicles and equipment that have come into contact with poultry
  • keep areas where birds live clean and tidy, and regularly disinfect hard surfaces such as paths and walkways
  • humanely control rats and mice
  • place birds’ food and water in fully enclosed areas protected from wild birds, and remove any spilled feed regularly
  • keep birds separate from wildlife and wild waterfowl by putting suitable fencing around outdoor areas they access
  • keep a close watch on birds for any signs of disease and report any very sick birds or unexplained deaths to your vet

Poultry keepers and members of the public should report dead wild birds to the Defra helpline on 0345 933 5577 and bird keepers should report suspicion of disease to APHA on 0300 020 0301.

In Scotland, you should contact your local APHA office.

Further avian influenza advice, including how to spot the disease, is available:-

For information about how APHA uses personal information, see https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/animal-and-plant-health-agency/about/personal-information-charter

The message send was initiated by Animal and Plant Health Agency APHA. Contact apha.corporatecommunications@gmail.com for more information.

Bird Flu (Avian Influenza) latest 2018 from APHA

Official Notification from Animal and Plant Health Agency

Bird flu detected in wild birds in Dorset 12th January 2018

Highly pathogenic H5N6 bird flu has been detected in wild birds in Dorset.

It is the first confirmed case of the virus in the UK this winter in 2018, and tests show that it is closely related to the H5N6 strain. In recent months this strain has been circulating in wild birds across Europe. It is however, different to the H5N6 strain that affected people in China last year so Public Health England are advising that the risk to public health is very low. The Food Standards Agency are also offering reassurance that bird flu will not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

What has the Government done in response

A local ‘avian influenza prevention zone’ has been declared in the area of south Dorset where the diseased birds were found. This means it is mandatory for all captive bird keepers in this Zone to put enhanced biosecurity measures in place.  Further information can be found on GOV.UK.  This Zone will be in place until further notice and will be kept under regular review as part of our work to monitor the threat of bird flu.

Bird flu biosecurity recommendations

It is vital that anyone who keeps birds stays vigilant. It affects us whether we keep a few in a back garden or thousands on a commercial unit. This is mandatory for all of us.

Government advice is that ALL poultry keepers should:

  • minimise movement in and out of bird enclosures
  • clean footwear before and after visiting birds, using a Defra approved disinfectant at entrances and exits
  • clean and disinfect vehicles and equipment that have come into contact with poultry
  • keep areas where birds live clean and tidy, and regularly disinfect hard surfaces such as paths and walkways
  • humanely control rats and mice
  • place birds’ food and water in fully enclosed areas protected from wild birds, and remove any spilled feed regularly
  • keep birds separate from wildlife and wild waterfowl by putting suitable fencing around outdoor areas they access
  • keep a close watch on birds for any signs of disease and report any very sick birds or unexplained deaths to your vet

How to contact APHA

Poultry keepers and members of the public should report dead wild birds to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 and bird keepers should report suspicion of disease to APHA on 03000 200 301.

In Scotland, you should contact your local APHA office

Further avian influenza advice, including how to spot the disease, is available on the Defra website at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu, in Scotland at http://www.gov.scot/Topics/farmingrural/Agriculture/animal-welfare/Diseases/disease; and in Wales at http://gov.wales/topics/environmentcountryside/ahw/disease/avianflu/?lang=en

Further Government Information here

Hedgerow Henporium highly recommends that you sign up on this website to get a text message when the latest news is out. There is no charge for this service. If there is a more local infection we may have to keep our birds under lockdown. It is safer for us all and our birds if we take action now. Last year the government mandated we all keep our birds under cover or under nets completely away from any interaction with wild birds, vermin or their droppings.  You would be well advised to make preparations just in case this happens again this year.

The government use a Prevention Zone which is in the immediate vicinity of the latest cases. Outside of this zone is a surveillance zone. Severe movement restrictions would be in place in that situation. No birds in or out etc. Places outside of the Prevention or Surveillance zones are then called protection zones. Last year the rest of the country was placed in this zone.

Interactive Map of the current situation

An interactive map is also here to show you where there are restrictions are in place at the moment Interactive map click here

Sign up now for the free alerts service

You can sign up for the alerts service where they send you a text message with the latest news so you know when you are clear or otherwise. It is very useful service. All you need to do is give an email address or a mobile number for a text message alert.
Sign up here it only takes a minute.

Happy New Year 2018

Happy New Year 2018

Wishing you all a happy new year with peace, prosperity and goodwill to all men, women and chickens!! We hope that this coming year is a fabulous one not forgetting those less fortunate than ourselves.

We are open and have a selection of hens at point of lay.

  • Blue Cochin
  • Salmon Faverolles
  • Black Rock
  • Light Sussex
  • Swedish Flower and La Fleche crosses in blue and brown
  • Prices range from £20-£30

 

Autumn is upon us

Of all the seasons I hate the Autumn the most. I find it hard to find joy in anything. The balmy warmth of Summer is retreating and only dank damp decay is creeping over the still landscape. I am looking out of the window now and I can see partially bare trees with limp leaves which can hardly muster enough energy to look alive. Yes, the colour is there but there is no wind. Autumn has a sort of stillness as though it is waiting to be something else. Dismal is how Autumn makes me feel. It’s as though I have just lost a friend that I will not see again for ages. I am feeling maudling today.

It’s time to go and see my chooks. Sitting with them always cheers me up. They should bottle the sort of therapy they give me. At one time once Autumn raised her stifling blanket of dreariness I never left the house. Now I have a reason to be outdoors, which is helpful. It gives me some much-needed exercise too. Roll on Winter. Now winter is a proper season. It is invigorating, wild, stark, architectural, crisp and bright. Winter isn’t pretending to be anything it’s not. I love winter.

Ex-battery laying hens milestone reached

Ex-battery hens on rehoming day

Major rescue milestone

Ex-Battery hens say the British Hen Welfare Trust is about to hit a major milestone. Ever since they started in 2005, they have rehomed around 50,000 hens a year of ex-battery and ex-colony hens, affectionately known as ex-batts or ex-battys. It has been their mission to educate people to no longer tolerate the conditions that these creatures have to endure in order to provide your chucky egg. On Sunday 1st October as part of a release of 5000 ex-battery hens, the total numbers rescued will hit 600,000. Hen number 600,000 is shortly going to arrive somewhere in the south of England and the Trust is very excited about it. They should be, their sterling work has ensured that public pressure has encouraged the governments and food suppliers to think seriously about hen welfare and what sort of category of eggs go into their products.

Why do hens need to be rescued in the first place?

The battery cages, as they were known, only allowed for a space of about an A4 sheet of paper per hen. She was kept in warehouse style conditions consisting of tiers of cages where thousands of hens were kept. High concentrations are solely to provide cheap eggs. Thanks to public and celebrity pressure, the old style cages throughout Europe and UK are now outlawed in most countries, in favour of a cage system known as a colony cage. I don’t personally think they are any better than the old system, as there are about 50 birds per cage. The cage has a nesting area, a perching area and a dustbathing area but they are still cramped, albeit not to the same degree. The lights are kept on for 15 hours to keep the birds in laying condition. At 72 weeks of age, they are considered “spent” and their economic value suffers. Many are rehomed but this is a drop in the ocean given the billions of birds in the systems. Much more are sold off at between 30p and 50p per bird to go into the processed meat chain for things such as pies, and animal foods.

How to get hold of Ex-Battery hens

If you want to rescue an ex-batt lady then there are many rehoming charities, the main one is here British Hen Welfare Trust. They are countrywide and have regular rehoming events. You will need to register on their website and they will let you know when the next rehomings are in your area. You will be vetted so be prepared.

Ex-commercial hens are usually poorly feathered, but this is not because they have necessarily been mistreated. In preparation for their exodus from their cages, the supplier can often squeeze the last few eggs out of the hen by cutting their final food bills as a bonus. By withdrawing or lessening the feed that these birds eat, it often causes a spontaneous moult. Their bodies still have enough resources to produce those final eggs but the profit margin is much greater for the supplier. Most chickens at the age of around 18 months will moult for the first time then anyway.  It is a natural phenomenon but can be prematurely trigged by reduced feed intake.

Ex-batt hens come out of confinement with poor feathering, weakness or damage limbs. This can be because of the rough handling of their rescuers in their attempts to extract frightened birds from their cages. The combs are very pale and flaccid due to being in a high heat environment. Lots of birds can generate significate amounts of heat. The hens are not used to moving around a great deal so are often limited in their limb strength. They have never seen the daylight and to be thrust into a strange world can be very disorientating for them. Given time, and patience, they will blossom into fully feathered and very happy little creatures.

Moulting -Now you see them now you don’t

What is a Moult?

Moulting is an annual phenomenon in approx 18 months and older hens. In reality, she will experience her first full moult in her second Autumn, and then every year after that.

What happens?

Bam! At a time when you think that hens actually need a good feather covering, almost overnight, the coop looks like an explosion in a pillow factory. The girls drop feathers like it’s a drunken pool party in Ibiza. They also renew the scales on their legs too. It can be quite upsetting for people who have not kept hens before, to see how sad they look when they are stripped of their finery. Hens can look really unkempt and uncared for when this happens. The reverse is true, as they are provided with more protein and are not handled too much to avoid pressing the newly forming quills back into their skin. This is the reality of keeping hens.

Once the feathers start to regrow, the hen will look like a pincushion. The incoming feather shafts are called pin or blood feathers. They are dark and look almost blue. In reality, they are filled with blood which is nourishing the newly forming feathers within the shafts. The pin feathers are very easy to damage and can bleed profusely if broken.

Her comb will shrivel and become pink instead of red. Her face will also go pale. This is in response to the reduction in hormones.

A moulting hen will lose condition, she will look quite dejected if she finds herself at the bottom of the pecking order.  Other changes in her body will occur such as reversal of the bleaching phenomenon which removed the colour from legs, skin, and vent areas. Legs, skin and vent will return to the original colour as occurs in a non-laying hen.

This affects the pecking order

When a hen moults, her status within the flock plummets, and hens who were once high up in the pecking order will find themselves struggling to find any peace. They are often in hiding places and are unable to eat when they want. This becomes an ideal opportunity for a lower ranking hen who may not yet be moulting, to seize power. Sometimes these once meek hens, turn into little monsters and can really give the shrinking ex-head chickens a really hard time.

In the normal ranking or pecking order the head chicken (always a girl by the way) eats first, then number 2, then number 3 etc. The lowest ranking hens must wait until all the others have eaten and even then must be given permission by those of a higher rank. Such is the life of a lowly hen.

Why do the hens stop laying

A moulting hen needs good quality protein in her food as protein makes feathers, to conjure up new growth. Egg production also uses a lot of protein, therefore, no eggs will be laid for the duration of the moult. Something has to give, as all the protein has to be diverted to their feathering needs. A full moult can last 8 weeks with some hens taking much longer. The moult coincides with the shortening of days which in itself can trigger a shut-off the egg-laying hormones. These will normally be reactivated once the days start to lengthen again after Christmas. Lack of eggs seems like a sort of curse, but it is a good thing. It gives the hens a well-deserved break from the rigours of laying for a few weeks.

Keep your hens on layers pellets during the moult as the calcium will help top up her depleted reserves and the additional protein it contains will be beneficial for the feather production.

Moulting at other times

A mini or partial moult, usually a neck moult or a chest moult, can occur due to stress. Stress can anything from a predator fright, or extremes in the weather, too hot, very wet, very windy. Firework, loud banging, DIY, dogs, or cats will take their toll. It can be caused by you wearing the wrong wellies, or a change in the environment. Getting the picture? Chickens are stressy creatures. Stress can depress their immune response and egg laying can also be interrupted or erratic for a while.