Coccidiosis on pasture? Impossible!

Man, I thought I’d seen everything. But this one’s weird. The life cycle of coccidiosis is interrupted if you move the chickens to a new patch of ground every day. Coccidiosis is a in intestinal protozoan parasite, and it depends on infecting and reinfecting the victims through feces. Not just any feces, either — feces that has been aged enough but not too much. The coccidia in the poop aren’t ready to reinfect the birds until they go through a life-cycle change, which takes about three days. With daily-move pasture pens, you leave yesterdays poop behind before (to get technical about it) the oocysts can sporulate.

Well, it’s not working with one pasture pen of broilers. This has never happened to us before. Our best guess is that the chicks we were getting from Jenks Hatchery all these years had received the coccidiosis vaccine and we didn’t know it, while this year’s ones from Privett didn’t get it. If they got a good solid infestation in the brooder house, maybe it keeps getting worse for a while even with daily moves on the pasture. Don’t know for sure.

Anyway, the symptoms were the usual: pinkish spots on the poop (that’s blood, ewww!), listless chicks with dirty feathers.

Also, the fix was the usual, and seems to be working fine: Switch to medicated chick starter. Works like a charm, and the chicks look a lot perkier already.

Some people don’t like medication — they dislike it so much that they’d let their chickens suffer and die rather than cure them. I hate that.

I think that over-medication is silly and is also bad form, but coccidiosis is no joke. We do what we can to prevent it, including the deep-litter system in the brooder house and daily moves on pasture, but when prevention doesn’t work, one needs to go to the cure without hesitation.

Anyway, the chicks are doing better, and that’s the main thing!

Crows, Hoophouses, Predator Control.

Our local crows discovered a loose piece of hardware cloth in of our portable hoophouses and killed about a dozen young broilers. I need to update my hoophouse page to point out that we’ve made all our broiler houses burglar-proof, with chicken wire covering the whole thing, and hardware cloth over the chicken wire near the bottom to keep raccoons from reaching in and grabbing broilers.

While there’s a lot of romantic nonsense about country life being just like a petting zoo or a Little Golden Book, that hasn’t been my experience. If we don’t react to predators right away, all our chickens will soon be dead. We’ve tightened up the house. So far, so good.

Last year I had a lot of trouble from crows. I tried everything. What worked was shooting a few of them. The word got out and the rest stayed away. I was sad that scarecrows didn’t work, because I like the look of a field with a scarecrow in it. (Maybe I’ll set a couple up as a fashion accessory, rather than for any better reason.)

The neighbors report quite a bit of coyote activity, so I suppose it’s time to start patrolling the perimeter fence again. It turned out, rather to my surprise, that finding predator trails is trivially simple even if there isn’t a trail of feathers from stolen chickens. All you have to do is look. Then you use the intervention of your choice.

My personal preference is live and let live, which is why my electric fence is my first line of defense. I’m okay with zillions of predators crossing my property so long as they leave my livestock alone. But the ones that cross my electric fence are showing an excessively high level of motivation and constancy of purpose. With these, the first choice is to exclude them (maybe the fence is too high or too low or doesn’t have enough voltage, and fixing this will exclude the predator and all his friends). If that doesn’t work, shooting is second best and trapping is third.

Lots of people would phrase that last part to be, “Trapping is the method of last resort,” but that implies hesitancy, and when you hesitate in the face of predators, more of your critters get killed. Responding quickly is very important.

I’ve found snares to be very effective when used sensibly. I don’t like leg-hold traps. I’ve found Hal Sullivan’s Web page to be very informative, and I’ve used his snare kits and benefited from the DVD that comes with them. The main thing to do is to identify trails used only by the predators eating your chickens, and set a snare in that place only. You don’t want to go setting them in the local equivalent of Grand Central Station; you’re after specific animals, usually a single individual.

With pastured poultry, placing the snares inside the electric fence pretty much guarantees that you won’t be catching innocent bystanders.

Privett “Slow Cornish” Broilers — So Far, So Good

Karen makes all the decisions on the broiler side of the farm. (Actually, she’s in charge of almost everything, these days.) Two years ago, she experimented with the “Freedom Ranger” broilers, which gave mixed results. These were supposed to be more like standard-breed chickens, which they were, with all that this implies, good and bad (which I may go into later).

For many years we got our modern, hybrid broiler chicks locally, from Jenks’ Hatchery in Tangent, Oregon. This worked very well for us, and we had our operation tuned to the strengths and weaknesses of the modern hybrid broiler. These broilers grow like weeds but are lethargic and “don’t act like real chickens” after the first few weeks.

Well, Freedom Rangers went out of business. Jenks’ Hatchery has been mothballed after losing their contract with Draper Valley, so we were forced to try something new.

Karen turned to Privett Hatchery in Portales, New Mexico, which is where we always buy our egg-type pullets. At the moment we’re using their “Slow Cornish” broilers, a white-feathered, broad-breasted hybrid broiler that looks like a modern broiler but acts more like a real chicken (active and alert).

So far, they seem to be on the growth curve in Table 20-10 of the the 1991 edition of “Commercial Chicken Production Manual,” which puts them in the right ballpark. They’re only 6 weeks old right now, and the few we butchered dressed out at 2 lbs. This is too small, of course, but we expect 3.5 lbs. at 8 weeks and 5.75 lbs. at 12 weeks.

This is way faster than standard-breed broilers, which dress out at 2 lbs. at 8 weeks and 3 lbs. at 12 weeks — if you’re lucky. I think it’s also faster growth than the Freedom Rangers provided, though I’d have to dig up Karen’s records to be sure.

So far, so good. It’s a little early to tell at 6 weeks just how they’ll turn out, but I have a good feeling about these broilers. I recommend Privett Hatchery. They’re very good.

Interesting Article on Early Egg Farming

A Watt Poultry article gives a pretty good rundown of the early egg industry, marred mostly by a few patches of garbled numbers.

The authors correctly identify the pioneering breeders who changed the egg industry in the first third of the 20th century (including James Dryden, whose book I need to reprint some day) and have some interesting tables of productivity per hen.

The numbers giving the amount of labor required per hen are garbled, but the numbers that report how many hens represent a full-time job at different technology levels are correct. The numbers tend to explain why you shied away from doubling your flock size this year!

Hen Hints

I’m dumping my accumulated store of wood ashes onto the dust-bathing sites preferred by the hens. This is supposed to be helpful in controlling mites, which always give me trouble in the warm parts of the year.

One of the problems I have with the pan-style waterers I use with the hens (Little Giant Pet Waterers)is that the hens don’t hesitate to poop in the waterer. I’m trying those conical wire tomato-cage thingies as a guard. We’ll see what happens.

The earlier and oftener you collect the eggs, the cleaner they’ll be. There will be more of them, too. The hens can’t break an egg or smear dirt on it if you’ve already collected it.

I’ve been having trouble with aerial predators picking off hens that insist on roosting on the roofs of the hen houses. I’m thinking about putting barrier wires around the roof, sticking up a foot or two above the roof line, and at a slant to keep the hens from roosting on them. Sorta like Rommel’s “asparagus” in Normandy. If anyone tries this before I get around to it, let me know.

If you use electric fence to protect your chickens, keep mowing the grass! Lush spring grass shorts out electric fences, no matter how powerful your fence charger. It’s hard to keep the voltage up to standard this time of year.

And in spite of high feed prices, don’t let your birds run out of feed. This is especially true of baby chicks. Never let them run out of feed, never let them run out of water, and (for chicks) never let them get cold. I like automatic waterers and large-capacity feeders. But you have to check both all the time, or you won’t notice when things go wrong. I find that I have to do a chore every day or I stop doing it entirely.