Feeding Fowl: What to Expect

If you are new in the chicken, turkey or waterfowl game, you probably have some questions about what, when and how much to feed your birds. These questions are often answered differently based on breed, age, environment and purpose of your birds, but I will attempt to get all the basics answered.

New Hatchlings

Baby Chicks and Turkeys will require a starter feed; this can be medicated or not, amprolium is often included in chick starter feed to prevent coccidiosis (especially dangerous to chicks). Waterfowl no not require medicated starter feed, however if you have no other option, studies show that USDA approved chick medications do not negatively effect waterfowl.

Starter Feed Consumption Rates (General Figures Provided by Nutrena):

  • Layers: First 10 Weeks = 9-10 lbs of feed per bird
  • Broilers: First 6 Weeks = 8-9 lbs of feed per bird
  • Turkeys: First 12 Weeks = 72 lbs of feed per bird
  • Geese: First 8 Weeks = 53 lbs of feed per bird
  • Ducks: First 8 Weeks = 22 lbs of feed per bird
  • Game Birds: First 8 Weeks = 9 lbs of feed per bird

Layer Feed

Depending on your breed, in about 16-24 months your females will hopefully start laying eggs. This means their diet will need some changing, basically less protein and more calcium compared with the starter feeds. Many layer feeds will come with extra calcium, but you can always keep a dish or crushed oyster shells or calcium enhanced grit in the coop; your girls will partake as needed. This prevents malformed and brittle eggs.

Egg Laying Bird Feed Consumption (General Figures Provided by Nutrena):

  • Chickens: 1.5 lbs per bird /week
  • Turkeys: 4-5 lbs per bird /week
  • Geese: 3 lbs per bird /week
  • Ducks: 1.5-2 lbs per bird /week
  • Game Birds: 1-1.5 lbs per bird /week

Tips For Feeding Chickens

I only have two chickens, beautiful girls that are about 4 years old. With such a small number they require very little maintenance. That being said, the easiest way to know how much feed they need is to check the feeder, I try to never leave their feeder empty. Its an 11 lb hanging feeder so i only refill it every couple weeks. We also have a family of mice that are probably subsisting on chicken egg layer feed which may account for some feed loss.

My roommates and I also tend to give our ladies a decent amount of kitchen scraps, and we let them out to eat grass, bugs, weeds and whatever they want in the garden / yard. This supplements their feed quite a bit, I know Blackie and Crusty Butt (she had some issues as a poult) go crazy over any greens or veggies and they get some almost every other day.

Final Thoughts

Figuring out your feed needs is pretty simple. I would suggest buying the first few months worth, about 10 lbs per chick, and seeing how it goes from there. The key is never to get caught with an empty feeder and a closed feed store, which is what happened to me yesterday. No worries though, just gave the girls a hefty helping leftover rice and veggies to tide them over!

Whats Good for the Goose is Good for the Gardener

Farm and Field Fowl

Ducks and Geese have been used for more than their meat and egg production for centuries. Fowl on the farm can be extremely beneficial in clearing out unwanted weeds and insects; working tirelessly all day and picking out even the smallest intruders. Best of all, you don’t have to apply pesticides that could contaminate your land or livestock.

Preparing Gardener Fowl

Using fowl for your gardens, fields, orchards etc. can be beneficial to your plants, save you money and the time it would take to work the fields yourself. However, you need to be patient and spend some time preparing your birds first. It starts with your ducklings or goslings as soon as their arrive in the mail or hatch out of their eggs.

You will of course need to feed your fowl with starter mash at first. The trick is to slowly introduce your birds to the weeds and insects that you want them to seek out. At about two weeks of age your fowl will be able to stomach some smaller weeds, you will want to find the weeds that are causing you problems on your property and harvest fresh cuttings to feed your fowl. Giving your ducks or geese a taste for the problem plants and insects at an early age is essential for training your birds as expert gardeners (Improve Your Land with Grazing Waterfowl, Jessica Klick).

Once your birds have a taste for the chickweeds, dandelions, purslane or whatever weed is driving you mad, they will seek and destroy! Ducks will not need to be trained to find slugs or snails as their hunger for those slimy buggers is ingrained in their DNA. Your fowl will require supplemental grower feed throughout their life, but depending on their appetite and the amount of forage available the need for store bought feed can be greatly diminished.

Duck Dining

Ducks are particularly good at finding and wiping out insect, slug and snail populations. Indian Runner Ducks are particularly deft in at finding and eradicating slugs and snails.

Indian Runner Ducks, Weeding Fowl

Indian Runner Ducks come in many color variations.

Geese, Vicious Vegetarians

Geese live off a wholly vegetarian diet, as opposed to ducks. A goose has a serrated beak, perfectly suite for tearing tough grasses and vegetation up. Of course geese are also much larger than ducks have so have a tendency to trample plants. Geese would not be ideal for bringing into a garden, however they are very capable of clearing weeds in pastures or orchards and their droppings will enrich the soil like you wouldn’t believe.

Geese are also better suited for fending off predators and living on their own. A large Embden Gander (Male) can exceed 20 lbs in weight at full maturity and go toe to toe with most predators.

Tough Geese, Predator Resistant Goose

One of the largest domestic goose breeds.

Garden Friendly Fowl

Your feathered friends are not the brightest bunch, but they can be trained, maintained and watched over to a certain extent. The garden friendly duck needs a good amount of space to range and forage. A large flock of ducks contained in a small field or garden will run out of weeds and insects fast, only to turn on your vegetables and flowers.

Fortunately domestic ducks can be contained quite easily. with a fence no more than 2 feet high due to their inability to fly and jump. Many gardeners will simply fence off their younger more delicate plants and vegetables, allowing their fowl to freely range around establish plants in the garden, hunting weeds and insects at will.

 

Ordering Fowl Online: Mail Order Birds

Nutrition From the Hatching Process

The complexities of shipping live animals are always going to be difficult to overcome. Luckily, the United States Post Office has had decades of experience handling live chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese and game birds. The USPS is able to mail day-old birds because the unique nature of hatching poultry.

The yolk or albumen inside every egg is consumed by each chick before they hatch. This albumen supplies each chick with enough food and water for three to fours days after hatching.  Nature provides this grace period between the first and last eggs hatching, which is when the broody hen will then take her hatchlings out to feed.

Day-Old Hatchlings Delivered by USPS

As long as temperatures are under control and there aren’t any delays, chicks should arrive no worse for ware.

Temperature Troubles

Thus, day old hatchlings have anywhere from 2-3 days of self-sustained energy before they will need care from their owners. Aside from shaking, breaking and jostling during shipment, the only real concern for birds in the mail is temperature. Day-old hatchlings are quite small, and have only a thin down coat protecting them from the elements. Chicks are shipped in insulated boxes, even with special heat packs at times to ensure minimum temperatures, even so chicks within the first week of hatching require a temperature between 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit (most postal trucks and offices will not come close to reaching these temperatures).

The best answer to the problem of heating for life poultry is answered in order minimums. Many online customers don’t want to purchase 25 birds at a time, some may even want a handful, maybe even just one chicken or duck. Sadly, that chicken or duck would have to be mailed alone in a cardboard box with only his or her tiny body to maintain temperature… which would almost always result in a single dead chicken or duck.

Chicks mailed through the USPS for over 100 years.

Snuggling up together in the box can help maintain heat in colder weather.

Why Do You Have Order Minimums?

As a result of this shipping conundrum, hatcheries will often have shipping minimums of 25 birds during colder months – the more chicks the more heat – letting them all cozy up together for the long cold ride to your door step, or in most cases the post office where you will pick them up.

On that note, you will probably want to get the phone number for the post office where your birds are to be shipped, always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to live birds. Even though the post office has been shipping day old chicks for over 100 years, receiving a box a chirping chicks can still be surprising (Brian Kiepper, UGA).

Now, I have discussed the cold weather issues that can result in what we in the bird industry call DOA’s (dead on arrivals). It is important to note that the opposite problem of high heat can also cause issues. However, this is rare in comparison with cold problems. Hotter summer months will usually mean lower minimum poultry orders.

Birds of a Feather Ship Together

Every breed and species of poultry is different. Goslings for example are one of the hardiest species of fowl on the market; bigger than ducks and better suited for the cold due to their thicker down insulation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, bantam chicks are even smaller than normal chicks. Guineas can’t ship with chickens, but Turkeys can because despite their size difference, they will help keep the chicks warm without smothering them.

The post office wants to ship live birds successfully, thus it asks they be shipped early in the week, lest the poor fowl get stuck in transit over the weekend.

Name that Game Bird

 

There are a lot of good reasons for raising game birds. A farm to table movement has increased the market for free range birds and delicacies like pheasant, quail and partridge are becoming more commonplace in the restaurant business, thus raising these beautiful birds could mean a nice money making venture for the savvy fowl farmer. On the other hand, hunting preserves are a tried and true purpose for raising game birds. Whether you are using stocks to train dogs or release into the wild, keeping a healthy stock of birds helps indigenous populations retain their numbers. Or perhaps you just like hearing those Bobwhite Quails go “bob bob bob whiiite!

The Game’s Afoot!

In any case, raising game birds can be a rewarding experience. Throughout this post you will find information concerning types of common game birds and their respected habitats.

First off, you need to choose your breed of game bird carefully. Depending on where you live and what your local climate and ecology looks like, certain birds will do better than others. Listed below are some common game birds, their habitat and preferred climate.

Northern, Bobwhite, Quail

Adult Northern Bobwhite Quail.

Northern bobwhite Quail

Perching Bobwhite Quail

Northern Bobwhite Quail: Found naturally in North America, the Bobwhite ranges from the Great Lakes and southern Minnesota all the way east to southern Massachusetts and west to Nebraska and central Texas. The Bobwhite thrives in agricultural fields, grasslands and woodland areas, a common bird for first time game bird growers due to its hardiness. Also the official Georgia State Game Bird.

 

 

 

Turkey, Hen, Poults

Eastern Wild Turkey with her Poults.

Wild Turkey: Native to North America, the wild turkey populates the eastern seabord from Maine to Florida and spreads across the central United States. Wild turkeys prefer hardwood or mixed conifer-hardwood forests with nearby fields, meadows, and marshes.  The largest breed of game bird common to the United States, the wild turkey can be an exciting hunt and a delicious meal.

Wild Turkey, Eastern Wild Turkey

A flock of Eastern Wild Turkeys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chukar Partridge.

Chukar Partridge.

Chukar Partridge: Native to Asia, the Chukar ranges from Greece to India including lowlands all the way up to 13,000 feet up in the Himalayas. The Chukar Partridge enjoys rocky scrub environments as well as grassy and cultivated land. Feral populations of Chukar have established in the Rocky Mountains, Great Basin, high desert of California, Canada, New Zealand and even Hawaii. A habitat sensitive breed, southern Idaho and eastern Oregon have been found to be ideal climates for the flighty buggers. Chukars, as with many game birds for sale, are sold as day old hatch-lings and delivered through the USPS.

.

 

 

Due to the Pheasant's flighty nature, dogs are often used to scare out and retrieve birds in hunts.

Due to the Pheasant’s flighty nature, dogs are often used to scare out and retrieve birds in hunts.

Common Pheasant: Around 30 million Pheasants are released each year on shooting estates. The Pheasant has been hunted by man since time immemorial, having been heavily introduced by Romans. Originally an Asian species ranging from the Black Sea to Korea and even Taiwan; the Pheasant and its many breeds have spread across the globe due to their ability to breed in captivity and their ability to adapt and naturalize to new environments. The Ringneck Pheasant is the most common breed and is readily available from hatcheries around the country.

Pheasant,Game Bird, Fowl

Game Birds in Borough Market, London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Managing flocks of wild game birds can be a rewarding experience, adding to your local fauna and your dinner table at the same time. If you are looking to step into the game bird business, you ought to check out Storey’s Guide to Raising Game Birds as a source for planning and executing your flock.

 

Getting Ready for New Chicks: Brooding Time

We threw this together in the office in order to give you an idea of how this might look.

We threw this together in the office in order to give you an idea of how this might look.

Spring is coming quickly and those of us at fowlblog thought it might be nice to discuss setting up a brooding area for baby chicks. Whether you are incubating and hatching your own or planning to receive day old chicks in the mail, you will need to figure out where and how you are going to brood them.

When brooding chicks, the goal is to provide a clean, dry area with adequate heat and space. On top of that you will need to prepare a method for watering and feeding your feathery little friends. A quality brooding area is essential for the growth and health of your chickens until they are about 6 weeks of age.

  • Space

Each chick should have around a 1/2 square foot of space until about 4 weeks of age and about double that space after 4 weeks. This will prevent pecking and bullying, especially in the feistier breeds.  For example, a 5 by 5 foot brooding enclosure would host 25 chicks until they are 8 weeks of age.

  • Materials

Your brooding enclosure can consist of a tub, wooden box or even cardboard fencing. You will want to use some sort of bedding to line the bottom of your brooding enclosure; most people use wood shavings or straw. As long as your bedding absorbs moisture and doesn’t grow mold you should be okay (warning: hardwoods can develop mold hazardous to infant chicks). Make sure your bedding isn’t so small that your chicks may accidentally eat it; something like saw dust can cause serious digestive problems in your chicks.  This means you should be checking for wet spots and caked bedding at least once a day, which will avoid the growing of hazardous mold. It is also important to note that chicks may slip and develop spraddled legs if brooded on a flat surface. The materials that we have recommended will help greatly in reducing that risk.

  • Heat

You will want to consider a heating element and thermometer so that your chicks can maintain their necessary temperature between 90-95 F. It is important to make sure there is space away from the heating element so you chicks can cool off when necessary. If you are brooding less than 200 chicks you will most likely want to use an infrared heat bulb around 250 watts. I recommend you use a specific heat lamp with porcelain socket to prevent fire hazards. You will want to place your heat lamp about 1-1.5′ above your chicks. If your chicks seem to be huddled under the lamp, move the lamp closer. On the other hand if your chicks are grouping away from the heat lamp, pull it farther away. You want your chicks to be evenly spread.

  • Water

Now for the food and water essentials. After chicks hatch they have enough food and water in their system (from their egg) to last them for approximately 72 hours. When your chicks arrive and have began settling into their brooding area, you will want to take each chick and dip their beaks into their water source as a way of showing them where to drink. I recommend a 1-Gallon waterer for every 25 chicks, however it depends on how often you wish to fill it.

  • Food

Last, but certainly not least, you will need some feed! There are many types and sources of poultry feed. Chick feed or starter feed is a specific blend of necessary nutrients and often medication to help your chicks develop into beautiful roosters and hens. Chickens, like many birds, will also require some form of grit in order to digest food in their gizzard, which comes mixed in most starter feeds.  In order to keep your brooding area as tidy as possible (always nice to keep the poop and the food apart), its a good idea to get a chick feeder of some sort.

Remember, when you order chicks from eFowl, you will receive a basic care guide to direct you through the first couple of weeks of brooding, but it is always a great idea to do extra research and to plan ahead so that everything is ready to go when your new chicks arrive.

All said and done, brooding chicks is a rewarding and amazing process. I hope this short blog helps anyone in need.  Please feel free to ask any questions.

image (2)

A good brooding environment is cleaned of moisture and droppings regularly. Also, remember to move the heat lamp until your chicks are evenly dispersed!

image (1)

If your chick’s butts are caking in poo, wipe it off to help their little digestive tracts start moving.