The Best Organic Chicken Feed Choices for Your Backyard Flock

My pets eat so much better than I do.  As I’m writing this, my lunch consists of a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter and some string cheese. Don’t judge.

If you’re raising egg layers like I am and you really care about feeding them organically, I highly recommend the following brands:

scratch-and-peck-organic-chicken-feed
Great whole grain organic non-GMO chicken feed

Scratch and Peck Feeds Naturally Free Organic Layer is a Non-GMO Project Verified and Certified Organic product. They use a blend of organic whole grains grown in the Pacific Northwest. Kind of a long drive for those of us in the Midwest, and there are NO retailers in Michigan of course.

Their Layer Feeds are designed to be the healthiest and most natural product available for your laying hens. While all of their products are soy free, their Naturally Free poultry feed line is both soy free and corn free.

Naturally Free Organic Layer contains a high amount of calcium and slightly lower protein levels than their Naturally Free Organic Grower. The calcium is used by hens to produce strong eggshells and should only be fed to birds that are laying or will lay in the near future. The grains are left naturally whole in this feed rather than highly processed into pellets.

Best for small flocks, this will get pricey fast: Organic, Naturally Free Layer Chicken Feed, 25lbs, Non-GMO Project Verified

kalmbach-organic-chicken-feed
Organic chicken feed

Kalmbach Feeds Organic Layer Feed is exceptional. Headquartered in Ohio (I know most Michiganders don’t like that, but trust me you’ll get over it), their mission is to provide the best animal feed products, quality service and value for their customers and partners- and it shows. They have a strong commitment to transparency as well as quality of ingredients . Derived from the same formula as their crumbles, this organic feed is fortified with essential amino acids and top calcium levels to produce strong shells and wholesome, tasty eggs high in Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D. It contains a proprietary blend of prebiotics, probiotics and enzymes to support digestive and immune health.

Moreover, their feed contains their OmEgga® supplement, which is an extrusion of flax seed with high uptake of omega 3. It’s an easy way to make sure your hens are getting the benefits of flax in the diet (lower risk of ovarian cancer, for instance), while upping the nutrition of their eggs.

Guaranteed Analysis
Crude Protein (Min.) 17.00%
Lysine (Min.) 0.90%
Methionine (Min.) 0.40%
Crude Fat (Min.) 4.00%
Crude Fiber (Max.) 6.00%
Calcium (Ca) (Min.) 3.60%
Calcium (Ca) (Max.) 4.60%
Phosphorus (P) (Min.) 0.62%
Salt (NaCl) (Min.) 0.20%
Salt (NaCl) (Max.) 0.70%

If your feed store doesn’t carry it, get it here: Kalmbach Feeds Organic Layer Feed with Omegga, 40 lb

hiland-naturals-non-gmo-chicken-feed
Non-GMO chicken feed

Hiland Naturals of Sugarcreek Ohio makes a great non-GMO chicken feed, and though I’ve never found it in a feed store, you can get it online through Amazon (with shipping included in their price!) or through their website. Their 17% layer feed is a Non-GMO Project Verified, Animal Welfare Approved product intended for layers 16 weeks and older. The slightly lower protein levels and high calcium levels maintain health and provide the birds with the ability to produce strong eggshells. The feed is a blend of non-GMO grains, all natural vitamin-mineral supplement designed specifically for poultry, and direct-fed microbials to keep your birds healthy while promoting production. Their layer feed is Non-GMO Project Verified, Animal Welfare Approved, tested free of herbicides, pesticides, and mycotoxins aflatoxin and deoxynivalenol, and preservative free.

sea-kelp-supplement-for-chickens
Sea kelp supplement for chickens

Supplementing your feed with sea kelp is a smart way ensure your chickens are getting all the right nutrients to keep them in their prime. By adding sea kelp to your flock’s diet, you have the opportunity to improve their nutrition, boost their immune response and promote egg laying. Some also agree that feeding the flock sea kelp also helps to extend the life of the flock .

Vitamins include A, B1, B6, (NIACIN), B9 (Folate), B12, D, E, and K.

Kelp has very high levels of vitamin K. Vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting and bone health. Kelp also contains high levels of folate, iron, iodine and calcium. The amount of calcium in one serving of sea kelp is ten times the amount found in a glass of milk. As you already know, laying hens require both calcium and Vitamin D to make strong eggshells.

Kelp contains moderate levels of vitamin A, E, C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid.

It also includes important trace minerals–phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium as well as lower levels of leucine, lysine, phenylalanine, tyrosine and histidine.

Potential Dietary Benefits

  • Stronger eggshells
  • Immune system support
  • Strong bones and maintenance of bone health
  • Bright deep golden color egg yolks
  • Improved plumage- gloss and decrease in feather breakage

Get a small bag here:  Treats for Chickens Certified Organic Cluck’n Sea Kelp, 2-Pound, Vitamin Supplement

Or the large bucket: Treats for Chickens Certified Organic Sea Kelp 6 lb bucket

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Michigan Cities that Allow Keeping of Chickens (and those that don’t)

michigan-cities-that-allow-chickensTaken from Municode primarily. Always check with your city!  This list is not comprehensive, and there are many grey areas in municipal code. Contact me if your city should be added to the list!

Cities that ALLOW chickens & fowl:

Ada Township (restricted to zoned area only)

Addison Township (restricted to zoned areas, acreage limit)

Ann Arbor (specific chicken ordinance)

Auburn Hills (specific chicken ordinance)

Berkley  UPDATE:  code now allows them on a trial basis, but they have not yet updated the muni code website. Copies of the muni code can be seen here. Currently online: Sec. 22-5. – Keeping of domestic animals and fowl. No person shall harbor or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, birds, fowl or animals commonly classified as pets. (Code 1981, § 5-4)

Centerline (allowed at schools, severe distance restriction)

Clawson (severe distance restriction)

Dearborn (permit required)

East Lansing (permit required) application available online

Farmington Hills (severe distance restriction)

Ferndale (specific chicken ordinance)

Grand Rapids (specific chicken ordinance)

Hazel Park (permit required)

Holly Township (class 3 animal, requires certain amount of land)

Holly (Village of) 3 chickens allowed

Lansing (City of Lansing)

Lathrup Village (specific chicken ordinance)

Madison Heights (permit required)

Northville (distance restriction)

Pontiac (acreage restriction)

Rochester Hills (acreage limit)

Royal Oak (implied to be allowed, ordinance governs keeping it clean)

 Southfield (distance limit, potential zoning issues)

Troy (permit required)

Warren (severe distance restriction)

Ypsilanti  (specific chicken ordinance)

Cities that DO NOT allow chickens & fowl:

Birmingham Sec. 18-8. – Keeping of domestic animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals within the city except dogs cats, birds, or animals commonly classified as pets. No horse, cow, calf, swine, sheep, goat, chickens, geese or ducks shall be kept in any dwelling or part thereof. Nor shall any such animal be kept on the same lot or premises with a dwelling. This offense is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or $500.00 fine. (Code 1963, § 9.64; Ord. No. 2075, 11-28-11)

Bloomfield Hills Sec. 3-4. – Livestock prohibited. (b)”Livestock” means horses and other equine, cattle, sheep, swine, mules, burros, goats, llamas or other new world camelids, bison, poultry, rabbits and other animals used for human food and fiber or primarily for service rather than companionship to humans. Livestock does not include dogs and cats.(c) It shall be unlawful and a violation of this section for any person to possess or maintain livestock within the city. Owners or possessors of livestock shall be responsible for compliance with this section and subject to punishment for violations. For purposes of this section, “possess or maintain” means the act or ability of having or exerting control and influence over livestock, without regard to ownership and “owners or possessors” mean persons who have a right of property in livestock, who have livestock in their care of custody, or who knowingly permit livestock to remain on or about property occupied or controlled by them.

Dearborn Heights Sec. 6-66. – Domestic animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, canaries or small animals commonly classified as pets which are customarily kept or housed inside dwellings as household pets. (Code 1969, § 9.87)

Detroit Sec. 6-1-3. – Owning, harboring, keeping, maintaining, selling or transferring of farm or wild animals prohibited; exception for circuses, zoos, and other approved activities; separate violations for each animal; disposition of animals in violation of this section.(a) It shall be unlawful for a person to own, harbor, keep, or maintain, sell, or transfer any farm animal, or any wild animal, on their premises or at a public place within the City; provided, that farm animals or wild animals may be kept in circuses, zoos, or laboratories, subject to the approval of the City, where the care or custody is under the care of a trained and qualified animal attendant at all times, whose responsibility shall be to see that such animals are securely under restraint. (Ord. No. 04-04, § 1, 1-30-04)

Eastpointe Sec. 8-6. – Poultry and game birds. (a) No person shall raise or keep game cocks within the city. (b) Live poultry and game birds shall not be owned within the city limits.(Code 1973, § 9.66; Code 1989, § 610.06; Ord. No. 1015, § 610.06, 10-6-2009)

Farmington (UNCLEAR ; acreage limit, farms can keep, but has on the books an ordinance disallowing livestock) Sec. 20-303. – Livestock, exotic or vicious animals. The keeping of livestock is prohibited. The keeping of any exotic or vicious animal is prohibited.

Fraser  Sec. 32-33. – Animals. No animals, livestock or poultry of any kind shall be raised, bred or kept on any lot, except that non-vicious dogs, cats or other household pets may be kept, provided they are not kept, bred or maintained for any commercial purposes. (Ord. No. 279, § 3.02, 12-12-96)

Garden City 90.01  PETS; SALE OF ANIMALS; PROHIBITIONS.   (A)   No person shall keep or house any animals or fowl within the city except dogs, cats, canaries, or animals commonly classified as pets, customarily kept or housed inside dwellings as household pets.    (B)   No person shall sell, or offer for sale, barter, or give away baby chicks, rabbits, ducklings, or other fowl as pets or novelties, whether or not dyed, colored, or otherwise artificially treated. This division shall not be construed to prohibit the display or sale of natural chicks or ducklings in proper brooder facilities by hatcheries or stores engaged in the business of selling the same to be raised for commercial purposes.(Ord. 11-006, passed 4-25-11)

Grosse Pointe Sec. 10-4. – Keeping domestic animals and fowl generally. Except as provided in this chapter, no person shall keep or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, birds, fowl or animals commonly classified as pets. (Code 1980, § 9.84)

Grosse Pointe Woods Sec. 6-3. – Livestock. (a) definitions. The following words, terms and phrases, when used in this section, shall have the meanings ascribed to them in this section, except where the context clearly indicates a different meaning: Livestock means horses, cows, calves, swine, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, geese, ducks, pigeons or other like or similar animals or fowl.(b) Harboring. It shall be unlawful for any person to keep livestock in the city with the exception of the Grosse Pointe Woods Hunt Club.(Code 1975, § 8-13-2; Code 1997, § 6-157)

Harper Woods Sec. 4-2. – Animals prohibited; exceptions. (a) It shall be unlawful for any person to keep any animal or fowl within five hundred (500) feet of any dwelling, street, alley or public place, except such animals as are commonly kept or housed as household pets; or permit any animal or any fowl owned by him or in his possession or control to run at large in any street, alley or public place, or upon the premises of another without express permission of the owner or occupant thereof.

Huntington Woods Sec. 4-4. – Domestic animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals other than domestic dogs, domestic cats, canaries or animals commonly classified as pets, which are customarily kept or housed inside dwellings as household pets. The term “pet” or “household pet,” as used in this section, does not include exotic, wild, vicious or dangerous animals including, but not limited to, any of the following: domestic fowl, live monkeys, alligator, crocodile, raccoon, skunk, fox, bear, sea mammal, poisonous snake, constrictor snake longer than six feet in length, member of the feline species other than the domestic cat, member of the canine species other than the domestic dog, or any other animal which would require a standard of care and control greater than that required for customary household pets sold by commercial pet shops. This section shall not apply to any lawfully operated zoo. (Code 1988, § 9.38; Ord. No. 423, § 1, 5-19-1998)

Mount Clemens 15.042 – Sec. 4.2 ANIMALS. No animals, livestock or poultry of any kind shall be raised, bred or kept on any residentially zoned or used property, except that non-vicious dogs, cats or other household pets may be kept, provided they are not kept, bred or maintained for any commercial purposes. All animals shall be maintained in accordance with applicable City Ordinances.

New Baltimore Sec. 8-6. – Domestic animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, birds, fowl or animals commonly classified as pets. (Code 1981, § 9.65)

Oak Park Sec. 14-5. – Keeping of animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, canaries or animals commonly classified as pets which are customarily kept or housed inside dwellings as household pets, and excepting further, the temporary keeping of live poultry by any lawfully established live poultry market incidental to the normal course of business. (Code 1973, § 6-5)

Plymouth Sec. 14-4. – Domestic animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, birds, fowl or animals commonly classified as pets. (Ord. No. 99-9, 6-21-99)

Rochester  Sec. 8-5. – Unlawful to keep certain animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, birds, or animals commonly classified as household pets. (Ord. No. 1991-15, 8-12-1991; Code 1982, § 9.2-4)

Romeo Sec. 4-1. – Keeping within corporate limits. No person shall keep any horses, cattle, swine, sheep, ponies, goats, rabbits, poultry or other animals and fowl, except dogs and cats, within the corporate village limits. (Code 1993, § 35.251)

St. Clair Shores 35.059 – Farm animals prohibited. Sec. 19-9. No person shall own, keep, harbor, have custody or raise any farm animal except that one rabbit shall be permitted per residential premises. (chap. 19 eff. Nov. 22, 1988)

Taylor Sec. 14.09. – Keeping of animals. (a) Domestic animals, dogs, cats, birds and nonbreeding rabbits are limited to a total of three animals age four months or older per household. (b) Unless otherwise provided in this ordinance, no building or land in any district shall keep, raise, procreate or otherwise allow on the premises any wild or exotic animal, fowl, farm animal or livestock. (c) Excluded from this regulation are facilities owned and operated by the city and fully accredited academic institutions. All are subject to the health and sanitation provisions of the City of Taylor and shall not become a nuisance. (Ord. No. 09-434, § 14.09, 1-20-2009)

A Comprehensive Guide to Cleaning Your Chicken Coop

Cleanliness is probably the most important and least sexy part of keeping backyard chickens.

When we started out on this road, one of the biggest complaints I heard was that chickens are dirty and their dirtiness will attract rats.  This is partially true:  left untended, a chicken coop can easily attract rodents who see the access to their food, water, and bedding as especially alluring.  Additionally, chicken droppings are smelly en masse- an important distinction to make, given that the droppings are less odoriferous than dog poo when spread out (say, around your yard).  Ben and I set out with cleanliness in mind when designing the coop, and it worked astoundingly well.

Things we considered in design:

1.) We had to be able to easily pull everything out, including bedding, from a standing position.  Most of the coops for sale online were close to the ground, meaning we’d have to hunch over or kneel while pulling dirty bedding out- no fun.

2.) We had to be able to easily clean the run and under the elevated coop.  Again, this meant we needed to have something tall enough that I could rake under it, and the run had to be a reasonable height for us to walk around in.

P1040796
Finished easy-clean coop design: using large windows in the front meant it would be easy to pull everything out to clean, and the run is big enough to stand up straight in.

Chicken Coop Cleaning:

By nature, I’m not a clean freak.  Not even close.  However, I’m a worrier- and my worries lead me to looking into all the gnarly disease and parasites that a dirty coop can harbor.  If left uncleaned, chickens can develop respiratory issues very quickly in a coop with poor ventilation and sanitation; basically, they’re breathing the ammonia from the waste, which damages their lungs.  Then there’s feather mites, red mites, scaly leg mites, lice- the list goes on and on.  The Chicken Chick has a pretty good post on how to identify poultry mites & lice; fingers crossed, we still haven’t had an issue with them yet, which again I attribute to sanitation procedures.

I clean the coop & run at least twice a year, once in the spring and once in the late fall/early winter after the hens have molted (if they molt before real winter sets in!). It gives me a chance to inspect everything in the coop, looking for damage to the structure and protections we have in place.  On a daily basis, I rake out the coop, picking up the chicken’s waste and putting it into our composter.

The big clean starts by removing nesting boxes, feed & watering stations. Anything that can some out easily, does.

Steps:

  1. Remove anything that isn’t nailed down.
  2. Brush out coop, removing all bedding. Pay attention to corners and crevices to remove debris and dust.
  3. Use a 1-1 solution of vinegar and water to spray on dried/caked waste and any debris that is lingering.  Spray liberally and allow to soak in cases of stuck on dirt/waste.
  4. Followup with brushing out the coop again, removing remaining waste.  Repeat spraying if necessary.  When done, allow coop to dry.
  5. Use diatomaceous earth, puff it into crevices along the walls, on the roost, and into the nesting boxes.  If you’ve never read about how diatomaceous earth can kill bugs, check out this write up on it.
  6. Add  1/2 to 1 cup of diatomaceous earth to the coop run, spreading it along the surface.  Add additional sand/tube sand on top.
  7. Add your substrate back to the coop- we use sand in the summer and wood shavings in the winter.  The sand is wonderul to keep things clean, cool, and dry.  The wood shavings are a great insulator for winter time, and it smells pretty nice- we use the shavings that are available in pet stores for hamsters/guinea pigs. Never cedar!  We tend to use shavings for the nesting boxes year round.

Pretty simple, but it’s labor intensive, even with a sweet setup like our coop.  I probably spend at least 2 hours cleaning when I follow this routine.  However, knock on wood, we haven’t had any problems with mites, lice, fleas, or similar ilk in the years we’ve had chickens.

 

First time chicken coop builders, start here!

There’s a lot to consider in building your first chicken coop, and this infographic walks you through some major points. At the very end, I’ll discuss some of my major points for the best possible coop design.

Click To Enlarge


checklist-small

These Chicken Coop Plan Must Haves Brought To

You By

ChickenCheckLists.com

There are some things I did right with my coop, and others I’d change if I did it all over again.

Things I did right on my coop:
1.) Lots of ventilation: in the summer when it’s hot, I have two doors on the front of the coop that can latch open, providing full coop ventilation. I also have a back window and roof vents with directional flaps to keep wind out of direct it in.
2.) Predator proof: my design was inspired by paranoia that something would get in and kill my chickens. I buried hardware cloth 2 ft underground and out, covered the edges of the run with heavy pavers to prevent digging, and covered the top of the run to protect from hawks.
3.) Covered run: I used polycarbonate sheeting to cover the run, which allows the chickens to run around in the rain without getting wet. Also, prevents mud, which combined with chicken poo produces a nasty, smelly, potentially dangerous mix.
4.) Nest box per bird: some people say it isn’t necessary, but I’ve seen all 3 hens pack into a box at the same time. I wouldn’t want them to have to queue up in line and wait.
5.) Easy to clean: this is the biggest one for me. I designed this so I wouldn’t have to stoop to clean, or climb inside, or shovel it out. Instead, I’m able to use a bucket and brush to sweep all the litter out, and I’ve used rubber liners for the floor that I can remove and hose down. All of this makes cleaning super quick and easy.

Things I’d change:
1.) Bigger: I’d make the run much, much bigger. Though chickens can take confinement very well, and they’ve got more space than some, I know they’d enjoy the extra room to roam.
2.) Elevation: I picked a low spot in my garden to place the coop, mainly because it was out of the way. Unfortunately, because it’s at a low spot, the run gets wet when snow melts in spring.
3.) Bad nesting box door: the nesting box door is heavy, has no way to stay up unless you’re holding it, and it collects water due to the design. That water then drains ever so slowly into the coop. I think this is a critical flaw and we’ll be changing it this year.

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Plants that are TOXIC to chickens

plants toxic to chickens

Spring has sprung, and the chickens are getting much more outside time.  With that in mind, while doing spring yard cleanup, it’s smart to pay extra attention to things that could potentially damage your foraging hens.  The winter snow covers so much, and invariably I find things like screws, nails, candy wrappers, Styrofoam pieces & cigarette butts that somehow find their way into my yard.  If I don’t clean those things up, the chickens WILL find them- and if they find them, they’ll try to eat them.  They’re not always the smartest of birds.

Additionally, spring is a good time to review what sort of plants you have growing in and around your yard, to make sure you’re not exposing your chickeny charges to something dangerous.  Below, I’ve pasted a list of toxic plants from chickenkeepingsecrets.com:

ARUM LILY ELEPHANT EAR (TARO) MOONSEED
AMARYLLIS ENGLISH IVY MORNING GLORY
ARALIA ERGOT MTN. LAUREL
ARROWHEAD VINE EUCALYPTUS (DRIED, DYED OR TREATED IN FLORAL ARRANGEMENTS) MUSHROOMS, AMANITA
AUTUMN CROCUS EUONYMUS (SPINDLE TREE) MYRTLE
AUSTRALIAN FLAMETREE EUPHORBIA CACTUS NARCISSUS
AUSTRALIAN UMBRELLA TREE FALSE HELLEBORE NETTLES
AVOCADO FLAME TREE NIGHTSHADES: (DEADLY, BLACK, GARDEN, WOODY, BITTERSWEET,
AZALEA FELT PLANT (MATERNITY, AIR & PANDA PLANTS) EGGPLANT, JERUSALEM CHERRY)
BANEBERRY FIG (WEEPING) OAK
BEANS: (CASTOR, HORSE, FAVA, BROAD, GLORY, SCARLET RUNNER, FIRE THORN OLEANDER
MESCAL, NAVY, PREGATORY) FLAMINGO FLOWER OXALIS
BIRD OF PARADISE FOUR O’CLOCK PARSLEY
BISHOP’S WEED FOXGLOVE PEACE LILY
BLACK LAUREL GLOTTIDIUM PERIWINKLE
BLACK LOCUST GOLDEN CHAIN PHILODENDRONS: (SPLIT LEAF, SWISS CHEESE, HEART-LEAF)
BLEEDING HEART OR DUTCHMAN’S BREECHES GRASS: (JOHNSON, SORGHUM, SUDAN & BROOM CORN) PIGWEED
BLOODROOT GROUND CHERRY POINCIANA
BLUEBONNET HEATHS: (KALMIA, LEUCOTHO, PEIRES, RHODODENDRON, MTN. LAUREL, POINSETTIA
BLUEGREEN ALGAE BLACK LAUREL, ANDROMEDA & AZALEA) POISON IVY
BOXWOOD HELIOTROPE POISON HEMLOCK
BRACKEN FERN HEMLOCK: (POISON & WATER) POISON OAK: (WESTERN & EASTERN)
BUCKTHORN HENBANE POKEWEED
BULB FLOWERS: (AMARYLLIS, DAFFODIL, NARCISSUS, HYACINTH & IRIS) HOLLY POTATO SHOOTS
BURDOCK HONEYSUCKLE POTHOS
BUTTERCUP HORSE CHESTNUT PRIVET
CACAO HORSE TAIL PYRACANTHA
CAMEL BUSH HOYA RAIN TREE
CASTOR BEAN HYACINTH RANUNCULUS, BUTTERCUP
CALADIUM HYDRANGEA RAPE
CANA LILY IRIS IVY: (ENGLISH & OTHERS) RATTLEBOX, CROTALARIA
CARDINAL FLOWER JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT RED MAPLE
CHALICE (TRUMPET VINE) JASMINE (JESSAMINE) RED SAGE (LANTANA)
CHERRY TREE JERUSALEM CHERRY RHUBARB LEAVES
CHINA BERRY TREE JIMSONWEED RHODODENDRONS
CHRISTMAS CANDLE JUNIPER ROSARY PEA SEEDS
CLEMATIS (VIRGINIA BOWER) KY. COFFEE TREE SAND BOX TREE
CLIVIA LANTANA (RED SAGE) SKUNK CABBAGE
COCKLEBUR LARKSPUR SORREL (DOCK)
COFFEE (SENNA) LILY OF THE VALLEY SNOW DROP
COFFEE BEAN (RATTLEBUSH, RATTLE BOX & COFFEEWEED) LILY, ARUM SPURGES: (PENCIL TREE, SNOW-ON-MTN, CANDELABRA, CROWN OF THORNS)
CORAL PLANT LOBELIA STAR OF BETHLEHEM
CORIANDER LOCOWEED (MILK VETCH) SWEET PEA
CORNCOCKLE LOCUSTS, BLACK / HONEY SWISS CHEESE PLANT (MONSTERA)
COYOTILLO LORDS & LADIES (CUCKOOPINT) TANSY RAGWORT
COWSLIP LUPINE TOBACCO
CUTLEAF PHILODENDRON MALANGA UMBRELLA PLANT
DAFFODIL MARIJUANA (HEMP) VETCH: HAIRY/COMMON
DAPHNE MAYAPPLE (MANDRAKE) VIRGINIA CREEPER
DATURA STRAMONIUM (ANGEL’S TRUMPET) MEXICAN BREADFRUIT WATTLE
DEATH CAMUS MEXICAN POPPY WEEPING FIG
DELPHINIUM MILKWEED, COTTON BUSH WHITE CEDAR, CHINA BERRY
DEVIL’S IVY MISTLETOE WISTERIA
DIEFFENBACHIA (DUMB CANE) MOCK ORANGE YEWS
ELDERBERRY MONKSHOOD YELLOW JASMIN

This is in no ways definitive, and there are other lists floating around out there.  For instance, this list on poultryhelp.com cites several plants that aren’t on the list above, such as lamb’s quarters, a common backyard weed in Michigan. I’ve found nothing that indicates lamb’s quarters are toxic for chickens- in fact, my chickens have eaten them since last year, and I regularly eat them in salads and spinach pie.  Likewise, that list also cites alfalfa, which many chicken keepers give directly to their hens.  Do your homework with plants you may have around, watch what your chickens go after, and be cautious.  For instance, from the above list I have quite a few toxic plants, like daffodils, burdock, wisteria, and lily of the valley.  I noticed a few days ago that my daffodils are starting to poke through the ground, and one curious hen grabbed a bit of green in her beak.  Before I could chase her off, she let go and walked away- on some of the more toxic plants, they’ll leave them alone of their own accord.  Does that mean I trust the chickens to 100% never eat anything dangerous, or that I could leave them in their chicken tractor parked over a bed of daffodils. Nope.  It’s better to be safe than sorry, and to limit their access to poisonous plants in ways that make sense.  Most of the things naturally growing in your yard will be fine for your chickens to peck and eat- keep them away from tomato plants & potato plants (nightshades), ornamental plants, and seedpods (especially wisteria).

plants toxic to chickens
My hens as juveniles late last spring. Notice the broad leaf plant near the bottom? That’s lamb’s quarters, which is “supposedly” toxic, but has been consumed repeatedly by my hens.

Feather Pickin’ Chicken, Pt2

P1050358

The Jerk is at it again.  She’s even pecking me, hard, on the leg while I’m out in the run cleaning.

I’ve put cat toys out there; cabbages; low-energy treats like greens, squash, etc; a tennis ball; as well as letting them out more often, even though the Jerk doesn’t WANT to go out, because her feet get too cold.  None of that was stopping her from picking at BB and Dumptruck.

So, the Jerk is now isolated.  On the advice of other chicken owners, I’ve removed her from the flock and placed her in a dog crate in the basement- this’ll give the other two a little time to heal, and rearrange the pecking order a bit.  Hopefully by shaking things up I’ll get her to stop long enough to get them through winter; in spring, they’ll have much more outside time and be less likely to have this issue.

The heroes of the day are Ben, for helping me set up the isolation pen and restraining the ladies with injuries so that I could properly coat them with Blu-Kote; the other hero is Blu-Kote, which is amazing in it’s ability to mask the blood to stop the picking, as well as being antiseptic.

The full gallery of injuries can be viewed here on imgur- the picture file sizes were way too big for my poor blog to handle.

Have you experienced this?  What did you do to fix the problem? I’d love to add to my list of suggestions.

List of advice I’ve been given:

-picked up the Jerk and hold her while the others run around and have a good time, to shake up the pecking order a bit

-check their protein level in the food. When they don’t get adequate protein, they’ll eat feathers (saw this during their molt). This is definitely not a nutritional deficiency, since she wasn’t even eating the feathers- she was pulling them out and spitting them onto the ground.

-give them all low-calorie veggie treats to keep them occupied but not give them extra energy

-Let them free range (not possible in the city, and their outside time is limited due to the extremely cold weather anyway

-Provide entertainment. I’ve used an automatic laser pointer cat toy, tennis balls, a treat dispenser, dangling toys, a hanging cabbage, etc.  No change in behavior.

-isolate the Jerk to rearrange the pecking order and let the others heal.

Feather Pickin’ Chicken

featherpickinchicken

A few days ago I noticed that BB and Dumptruck were looking… raggedy.  Specifically, their “bustles” (the area right above their tail feathers) looked like the feathers were thinning.  Yesterday I noticed that the colored portion of the feather was almost completely GONE in some spots on those two- meanwhile, Little Girl looked just fine.  What gives?

Seems we have a feather picker in our midst.  Ben caught LG snapping off feathers from BB, and spitting them out on the ground.  What a jerk chicken.

picked4

pickedpicked2 picked3

It’s likely boredom, and a little aggression thrown into the mix.  I saw her do it today- Dumptruck was taking a break from being out on the snow, resting on the stone step in the doorway of the run.  Little Girl stood above her, giving her the stink eye, and grabbing little strands of feather and pulling.  I pushed LG away several times, and finally just picked her up- it really came off like she was harassing Dumptruck to get out of her way/off her sunny spot.  Dumptruck doesn’t even seem to notice her doing it.  Same goes with BB: Ben noticed she was getting picked by LG, and went out there to stop it. BB didn’t seem any worse for the wear, like she didn’t even notice LG had been snapping off part of her feathers.  You can see in the pictures above that BB has a patch of orange missing, where it’s down to the fluff.  Likewise, Dumptruck’s bustle is sparse, but seems more uniform.

aggression

The culprit is none to happy about being picked up and carried around when I’m out there.  Of course, she also doesn’t like walking on the snow, being in the cold wind, not being able to run around outside of the coop, etc.  I feel like she’s getting a little stir crazy, and all-around grouchy.  I feel her pain.

So, I’ve got some options:

-give them things to peck at (I’ve given them cabbage, but squash and pumpkin are also good choices to keep them busy)

-give them distractions (I hung some cat toys and left a tennis ball inside- the ball seems to be the winner)

-reduce their high calorie treats (suggested by Terry from Hencam.com)

-shake up the pecking order (trying to do this by carrying the aggressor around)

-isolate the aggressor

Isolation is the worst case scenario, and will happen if this keeps going on.  Of course, because it’s winter I’ll have to take into account that the 3 need to huddle together to stay warm; I’m thinking I might be able to isolate LG during the day, and bring her back out before sunset so they can all sleep together.  I’m a little nervous about this possible action only because LG might get used to the warmth of the house and have a hard time adjusting when she goes back outside.

Always an adventure with these birds.  At least nobody has drawn blood, yet.

It’s cold out there!

It's cold out there!

One of the best things you can invest in when getting backyard chickens: a remote temperature reader. This way, you can obsess over the slightest temperature variations and neurotically check on your ladies to make sure they’re not chickensicles. (They’re not- in fact, they’re fine down to around 0degrees without any heat source, so long as they’re dry and away from drafts.)

GRAPHIC: abnormal finding in the coop

Alright, a gross mystery for you all.

Ben went out to check on the ladies this morning, and came back in telling me there was weird red egg inside the coop.  He described it as looking like “a cherry tomato”.  Scary.  I went to investigate.

There was a red lump, surrounded by wet bedding.  Above, a shell-less egg with a TON of watery poo nearby.  Keep in mind- I clean this coop every day, so this wasn’t a buildup of poo from a few days or anything.

I can only assume one of my ladies had a VERY bad morning.

I examined the mass at length: it felt like it contained liquid (it did), had an attached ‘cord’ with what appeared to be ova at the end, a dark spot inside that, after dissection, turned out to be extra tissue inside the sac, and the ‘liquid’ inside appeared to be egg yolk.

So… what is this thing?  Did my hen lay an egg yolk… maybe dragging other egg yolks with it?  Is it a cyst?  Whatever it is, the ladies all seemed healthy and happy  and were running around scratching like normal, so I’ve got to assume that it’s not, ya know, vital to their function.

Snow Chickens

The ladies have been completely terrified of the snow, until recently.  I had to show them that it wasn’t dangerous by opening their door and calling them out with some scratch treat, but the other two followed Big Bossy out as she came toward me.

Chickens of the Mist

misting chickens
Chickens of the Mist, or: How I Learned to Make an Evaporative Cooler on a Hot June Day

In Ferndale/Detroit, yesterday and today are hitting temperatures in the high 90’s with around 70% humidity.  The heat is oppressive, to say the least.  I’ve been staying indoors in the cool air conditioned climate as much as possible, but the chickens don’t have that luxury.  The temperature sensor in the coop read a whopping 100 degrees at noon yesterday, and the ladies were hanging out below it, panting hard and keeping their wings away from their bodies.  Buff orpingtons like these were bred in England, and are cold hardy- which means they’re absolutely not designed for this sort of stifling weather.  Luckily, this should be the last day like this for a while, but if we continue to encounter temps like this, I have a plan.

chicken mister setup
I’ve been filling large bottles with water and freezing them solid; we placed one in front of the box fan and angled my hose set to “mist” so that the water hits the frozen jug and the cooled vapor gets blown at the coop run.

We made a simple evaporative cooler for the girls that seems to have helped in a major way.  I’ve been filling large bottles and jugs with water and freezing them solid- it makes your freezer run more efficiently to have them in there, and I’ve got them on hand to place in the coop run for the chickens to hang out nearby (not that they do, but even having it in the vicinity seems to help).  To make it, we place a box fan a short distance away from the run, placed the frozen jug in front of it, and angled my hose set to ‘mist’ so that the water hits the frozen jug and gets blown toward the run.  The cooled vapor travels into the shadey area under the coop, where the chickens like to hang out- I can FEEL that it’s cooler down there than it is in the surrounding yard.

chicken mist setup
another shot showing the mist created by the evaporative cooler

Best of all, the chickens don’t seem to notice it too much, and just hang out under the coop as they usually do.  Yesterday, during intial setup, we discovered that they would NOT hang out in the shade under the coop with the fan directly against the runs fencing- it was just too new and scarey for them, and despite the heat they were standing in direct sunlight away from the fan.  Once we moved it away and behind some plant life, they went right back into the shade.   Care also needs to be taken to not spray too much water into the area you want them to hang out in- they’ll avoid having the water hit them.

In addition to the evaportive cooler, I added some “Sav-a-chick” to a giant metal waterer and placed it down in the run (rather than inside the coop itself).  It’s basically gatorade for chickens, helping to keep them hydrated while they’re panting and losing water through their heavy breathing (this is primarily how they cool down).  They each drink roughly .5 liters of water in the summer; you want to keep them stocked with water at all times, and keep the water cool (ie. not out in the sun).  Drinking cool water will decrease their core body temperature, and having the “chicken koolaid” mix in there will reduce their need to drink, avoiding any potential “water toxicity” issues (unlikely to happen, but possible).

I also put out a shallow dish of water that they could stomp around in, but they’re avoiding it like the plague.

We’re also being mindful of what they eat right now- greens and cool fruit are a better choice, and care should be taken to avoid cracked corn and corn products, as those will raise their core body temperature (so keep it handy for winter!).

In the event that they show signs of not being able to handle the heat even with these precautions, I’ve got a tent set up in my basement that I’ll move them into.  I’m hopeful that it won’t come to that, since I’m sure the change of scenery would stress them out only slightly less than the extreme heat.

Chickens in Hot Weather: 17 Ways to Help Keep Your Flock Cool This Summer

Chickens in Hot Weather: 17 Ways to Help Keep Your Flock Cool This Summer.

I’ve been worrying about this for a while- it seems silly right?  Worrying about chickens getting too hot in Michigan.  I get asked a ton of questions about keeping chickens through our cold winters, but nobody ever thinks to ask if they’ll be ok in 90+ degree weather with high humidity.  Chickens’ bodies perform best below about 75 degrees F; over 90F they can start to have real problems, especially heavier breeds.  They can suffer heat stress and stop laying eggs, and on the extreme end of the scale they can die. We had an incident when the chicks had only been here for a week- it was early March, they were tiny and living in a brooder box under a heat lamp, and our weird Michigan weather zoomed up to the high 80’s.  I came home from work and found the little chicks panting and laying down in the brooder box, wings outspread.  I’m pretty sure that scarred me, and I’ve been paranoid about temperature extremes ever since.

Luckily, the blog I linked to above has some great tips for keeping chickens cool in the summer heat.  I’ve reprinted their tips below in bold, with my take on how it’ll work for me:

  1. Provide shade: the girls like to hang out under their coop even now, digging shallow holes and taking dust baths.  In the summer, I’m assuming this will be where they spend a lot of their time- if I feel like they’re not getting enough shade, I may just throw a tarp over the top of the run to provide a little extra protection from the sun.
  2. Keep them supplied with cold water: it should be pretty easy to toss a few ice cubes into their waterer, and since I usually keep it in the coop it’ll be shaded.
  3. Provide dirt bath areas: the girls have already created some good spots for dust bathing, in the shadow of their coop.  I have a hard time imagining any scenario where a chicken didn’t have a place for dust bathing, unless they had a wire or concrete floor in their run.
  4. Add electrolytes to their water: I picked up several packs of these from Tractor Supply when I was getting supplies before getting the chicks- we still haven’t used them, so when it gets hot I’ll definitely add them to the water.
  5. Turn off lights in the coop: no problem here, since we don’t have a light in the coop.
  6. Increase the ventilation in the coop: we have two vents in the ceiling with adjustable vent flaps that can direct air in or keep it out, and a large screened back window.  In the summer, we’ll definitely keep the back window shutter open, adjust the vent flaps to direct air in, and there’s the possibility of leaving the front leaded glass doors open (I don’t like that idea, because even though we’re confident that the run is predator proof, I’d rather not take any chances).
  7. Place reflective foil on the roof of the coop in the morning: kinda the premise behind those car dashboard visors.  We likely won’t use this due to the green roof, but it’s a smart tip to keep in mind with other coops.
  8. Give them a shallow pan of water: like a bird bath! In general I want to keep these chickens completely dry, but if they opt to splash around in some water, I won’t stop them.
  9. Install a fan in the coop: I’ve been considering this, but with my set up I’m not sure how I could make it work.  The fans would need to be on the side of the coop, and I certainly wouldn’t want them there in the winter; I’d need to install them and then board them up when it got too cold out.  If there’s a way I can do this without destroying the aesthetic of the coop and/or compromising the structures ability to keep them warm and dry in the winter, I’ll consider it.
  10. Give them cold/frozen fruits and vegetables: watermelon seems like it would be a great choice for this.  I’ll definitely be doing this one.
  11. Don’t feed them cracked corn: I’ll save the cracked corn for cold weather, since it brings up their body temp.
  12. Dig a shallow pit and lightly mist it with water: I can see doing this in extreme situations, making the hole deeper than it would normally be from their dust bathing.
  13. Freeze water bottles or milk jugs with ice: kinda like air conditioning for the chickens! I bet they’d wind up scared of it, like they are of most new things. Still, in an extreme situation, this seems like it would help immensely.
  14. Leave them alone: keeping their stress levels low is the name of the game, and something I try to do regularly anyway.  The only time these girls really get ruffled up is when my bf’s dog circles the coop run, breathing heavily.
  15. Put sprinklers on the coop roof: I can’t do this with my setup, but I do wonder if watering the green roof wil help.
  16. Decrease the litter in the coop: we only have maybe an inch and a half of pine shavings in the coop at present, and the litter gets cleaned daily, so this may not help much.  The theory is that deep litter acts like a compost pile, generating heat- so, if you’re a deep litter coop, you’ll want to take this advice to keep the heat level down.
  17. Mist them with cool water: I’m pretty sure the chickens would freak out if I did this, so chances are I won’t.

Armed with these tips, I’m hoping I won’t have a repeat of our “too hot” incident- I’ll still keep my eyes peeled for signs of heat stress throughout summer.

SIGNS OF HEAT STRESS:

-panting, with beak open

-laying around with wings outstretched

-no interest in eating

-slow to respond to stimuli, unresponsive

Chilling.

Winter Care for Chickens

taken from wikimedia, author addshore

I’ve had several people ask about housing and caring for hens in winter, and it’s best to start thinking about it now while the weather still allows for easy modification of the coop.

People are often shocked to find out that coops in Michigan don’t need to be heated. They do, however, require adequate ventilation- in cold temps, the breath & waste from chickens create a damp environment in ventilation restricted coops, which can lead to condensation, frostbite, and ammonia buildup.

A good example of a coop suitable for Michigan’s winters is located here:
http://www.greenchickencoop.com/

Robert Plamondon has a thorough write up regarding proper winter care on his website:
http://www.plamondon.com/faq_winter.html