In poultry keeping there is no only way. There are quite numerous ways, each with its successful and vehement advocate. But there are a few rock-bottom rules that remain unchanged and unchangeable for whoever would keep, with profit, up to about a dozen birds for egg production the year round (as near as possible), no longer profitable hens being fattened for the table.
Egg-laying and Table Fowls.
Ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowls and ordinary fowls are all included under the word poultry. It is the ordinary egg-laying and table fowl alone that is being dealt with here.
The professional and the enthusiastic expert consider it almost a crime to call all fowls chickens. The birds start as chicks, and that term holds good for a few weeks; after which they are chickens, until they are twelve months old. The chickens are either pullets (females) or cockerels (males). After its first grown-up moult a pullet is called a hen, and a cockerel becomes a cock.
Of the rock-bottom rules, one of the first essentials is adequate accommodation – no overcrowding. There must be a dry shelter – dry overhead and underfoot. Daylight must reach the birds, and all the sunshine that is going. Air must be kept moving where the birds roost, which means ventilation without draughts. Cleanliness- of the birds and of their surroundings is of very great importance. Exercise must be possible at all seasons. Feeding must be carried out on common-sense lines. Any old birds are likely to be unprofitable, even as a gift; the ones to buy are not necessarily the most expensive; what matters most is where they come from.
How to Start.
House and run should be ready to receive the birds before they arrive, so that they can settle down at once in peace and quiet. Sawing, hammering or other noisy tinkering will disturb them. Fowls are nervy and won’t do what is expected of them if they are upset. For which reason also they must be handled or shepherded gently and unhurriedly.
Before birds are ordered or purchased it will be necessary to determine how many can be accommodated in accordance with each of the rock-bottom rules that are set out in a previous paragraph.
The general possibilities are as follows: – An outhouse or shed may perhaps be adapted as a roosting and laying place, with a wired-in run attached. A roosting and laying house may be purchased, or homemade, with a wired-in run, to remain in one spot. A house mounted on wheels may be purchased or made, for shifting about on a vegetable plot as crops are cleared and another unoccupied spot thus becomes available as a wired-in run. A wheeled house may be used in a field in which the birds have their liberty. Space may be so limited that the birds must be kept always in a small house without any outside run at all.
Where outdoor exercise is possible, as in a wired-in run or a field, birds should be allowed about 2 sq. ft. of floor space each in the roosting and laying house; and the wired-in run should allow each not less than 5 sq. ft. Thus a dozen birds would require a house say 6 ft. long by 4 ft. wide, and about 4 ft. high; and a run not less than 10 ft. by 6 ft.
House and Run.
Maximum sunlight being very desirable, the stationary house should face to the south, and to ensure dryness in the attached run it should be on the highest part of the ground. In a backyard there will not be much choice in these matters; but in a garden, opportunity for planning for the well-being of the fowls is less limited.
The garden poultry house will probably be sited at some distance from the dwelling-house. At the bottom of the garden is as good a place as any, providing the south aspect and dry ground go with it. The shelter of a fence or wall on two sides has excellent results; cold winds are broken; and cold winds and a wet run are all against egg production, in winter especially.
If the house is bolted togedier instead of nailed, or is secured with large screws or strong hooks and eyes, its removal to another position at any time is a simple matter. The framework should be sturdy, the floor, roof and other boarding strong and well fitting. Flimsy, unseasoned boarding will warp and split; and if there are cracks for wind to whistle through, the egg-laying capabilities of the birds will be reduced.
Thoroughly reliable houses are sold by the big poultry appliance dealers, but if good timber is available and some knowledge of carpentry is possessed the structure might well be made on the spot.
A Useful Layout.
The house and run shown in the accompanying diagram gives accommodation for a dozen birds, and the dimensions given may be taken as a basis for a smaller or larger outfit.
The front of the house is divided into three – the door in the centre, an unglazed wire-netted window on each side of it. These windows can be closed by wooden shutters which slide up and down in grooves, each shutter having a chain and hook so that size of the opening can be adjusted.
At the top of each window is a sloping and hinged weather-board to keep out rain, and to act as a wind-baffle when the windows are almost closed. A crack of air should always be left at the top, efficient ventilation being absolutely essential.
For some unexplained reason fowls have not the sense, or the inclination, to take cover in a house when it rains. They go into it to sleep and to lay eggs, but rather than take shelter in it from rain about 3 in. up from the wooden floor.
Access to the house is through a pop-hole at the wire-run end – the end opposite to the nest boxes. The hole can be closed by a wooden shutter sliding up and down in grooves. The shutter is raised and lowered by means of a chain. A sloping board forms a gangway between the pop-hole and the ground.
The only inside fitments of the house illustrated are two perches, each 2in. wide and with rounded edges. They are 2 ft. apart and run from end to end of the house.
The ends lodge in notches cut in strips of wood screwed to opposite ends of the house. The perches are therefore easily removable for scraping and occasional scrubbing. The notches in which the ends rest are occasionally painted with paraffin, which vermin hate, and every three months the interior of the house is limewashed.
It is customary to place a broad droppings board about 1 ft. below each perch, to make daily collection of the manure a speedy matter. But where such boards would occupy more space than can be spared they can be omitted, so long as the floor is kept sprinkled with dry soil and the droppings scraped out each day together with some of die soil.
The droppings are of great value.
The house illustrated stands on four 3-ft. lengths of scaffold pole, one under each corner. One foot of each length is in the ground, so that the floor is 2 ft. above ground level.
The space below the floor is wired-in at the front and the outer end, and it provides the birds with during daylight hours they will submit to being half drowned, which leads to all sorts of troubles. They have no such objection to making free use of the under-floor space provided.
Where a house is not thus elevated it should at least be raised a little, on wood blocks or a brick under each corner. This safeguards the wooden floor against rising damp and makes matters less easy for any rats there may be about. Before the house is placed in position the ground space which it is to occupy should be rammed solid. And because there is no below-fioor shelter, part at least of the run should be roofed in.
The Open-top Run.
This is at right-angles to the house, wired to the same height and with a door in the centre. A tool shed, which is also a poultry food store (with the food in rat-and-mouse-proof containers) forms the opposite end and gives protection against wind and driving rain.
The earth floor of the run, 22 ft. long by 6 ft. wide, sandy and there- fore well-drained, is dug over once a week. And as frequently as possible the top soil, enriched with the birds’ droppings, is removed to the vegetable plot, whence comes fresh soil to take its place. Between-whiles, powdered slaked lime is scattered over it to keep it sweet. ground, serves as well as anything. If, however, there are chicks in the run the water container needs to be shallow, such as a flower pot saucer or metal dish; and so that the young birds shall not get into it, an empty inverted flower pot, or something similar, should be placed in the centre of it. The water should be in the shade in summer; in winter it should have the chill taken off before being placed in the run in the morning.
Appliances in the Run.
A perch is needed in the run, about 2 ft. up from the ground and of die same dimensions as the house perches. Fresh, clean drinking water must be there in plenty; a bucket, half sunk in theGrit and lime are both essential; lime to help form egg shells, grit to help the birds grind up their food. Grit takes the place of teeth in fowls, the food-grinding taking place in the gizzard. The grit should be quite small, and sharp.
It can be purchased, or finely sifted road grit can be used.
Lime can be given in the form of crushed oyster shell or cockle shell or powdered mortar rubble.
The grit and lime may be mixed together in a shallow box made to hang up within easy reach, or they may be in separate boxes. In any case the materials should be placed where rain will not sodden them; a small sloping wooden roof a few inches above the box or boxes will give the necessary protection in an open run.
Birds will get a certain amount of the necessary gritty particles out of a box of dry sifted fire ashes. They find welcome employment in scratching over the dry ashes and taking a dust bath therein.
A feeding trough to contain wet mash can be made of two lengths of thin wood placed together to form a prolonged V-shape, with ends of thicker wood to support the V and projecting far enough to prevent the trough being easily overturned. It need not be more than 3 in. deep, 3 in. across the top, but at least 1 ft. long. Troughs should be placed so that birds can feed from both sides, and they must be kept scrupulously clean. It is not sufficient merely to scrape the troughs out. Scrubbing in hot water is called for, as frequently as possible.
A trough for grain is not only not required but is undesirable. Grain should be scattered and well raked into the ground so that the birds must scratch vigorously for every bit of it. The good layer is the bird that is always active and alert.
Appliance dealers offer many refinements in fitments. But nothing elaborate or costly is needed.
The Covered Run.
Unless the soil of the stationary run is thoroughly well drained so that it is never damp for long after rain, and unless the surface can be changed occasionally, the run should be roofed in entirely or in part.
A sharply sloped wooden roof covered with tarred felt will keep the soil and the birds always dry. Without reasonably dry conditions the most prolific egg layers become failures. In a covered run, birds should be allowed 3 sq. ft. to 4 sq. ft. each, and the soil should be kept always loose on top.
No Space for a Run.
Where space is so limited that the birds must be kept always in a small house, without any outside run at all, special provision must be made to keep them healthy, active and egg-laying. Whereas a house 6 ft. long by 4 ft. wide and with an ample run attached will accommodate a dozen birds, it will serve for only half that number when they are to be completely confined.
This intensive system demands that the utmost care and attention be bestowed on the birds in every one of the points previously enumerated. The interior of the house must be as well lighted as can be contrived. The front should be boarded from the bottom as far up as about 20 in., the upper part of the entire front (including the central door) being covered with 1-in. wire netting. These three netted openings should be fitted with up and down sliding glazed shutters to serve, when needed, as a screen against driving rain, bitter winds and general bad weather. Being glazed and kept clean, the shutters will admit plenty of light – even when the openings are almost closed. A weather-board running the length of the house should slope from the overhanging roof.
Outside nest boxes should be provided, to save inside space; and a I-ft. wide droppings board placed 1 ft. below the perch, running parallel with the back of the house, is essential, for the floor is to be kept scrupulously clean.
The Never-out Birds.
The floor of this intensive house will be covered with not less than 6 in. of dry litter, in which grain (forming, if obtainable, one of the day’s meals) is to be buried. This com- pels the fowls to scratch for the food and provides a substitute for the outdoor exercise which is denied to them.
The litter will consist of fallen leaves collected dry in winter and stored under cover; or bracken cut and sun-dried in summer or cut dry when it has changed colour in late autumn; or straw, chaff, or peat moss. Sawdust can be used, but it is wasteful; it has to be burned when the time comes to replace it with fresh, whereas any of the other materials can be dug into the garden.
Ventilation demands attention.
There will, of course, be nights when the front apertures can be left fully open. There will be some winter nights – and days – when they will need to be almost closed. There will be no pop-hole, such as the first house described possesses, to act as an air inlet. The inlet will need to be provided, and about the best place for it is just beneath the droppings board – a circular hole about 6 in. across covered with 1 in. wire netting or perforated zinc. The air outlet will be by way of the front apertures, at no time completely closed.
A drinking-water vessel, trough to contain the wet mash, grit and lime and sifted fire ash boxes, will complete the inside fitments of the intensive house. An ideal and larger intensive house is shown in.
House in a Field.
A wheeled, or otherwise portable, roosting house in a field in which the birds have their liberty should have as an adjunct a rough three-sided and roofed shelter under which they can go in the event of a downpour during the day. It need be no more than 2 ft. to 3 ft. high, and roofed with galvanized iron or felted boarding.
A considerable improvement during winter, for use when there is mud or snow about (birds would come to no good roaming about in that), would be a well-lighted scratching shed attached to the house. During inclement weather birds would not be let out into the field, but would spend their time on thick dry litter covering the wooden floor or the beaten earth. The shed should be of such a size as to provide each bird with not less than 4 sq. ft. of floor space. They would get their essential exercise by being compelled to scratch for their grain in the Utter.
How to Get the Birds.
A nearby poultry keeper – professional or amateur – successful ona more or less extensive scale can be a heavensent blessing to the beginner. The local man may be able to supply just the birds required; and should anything go wrong for which he can be held responsible, within reason, he is on the spot for remonstrance or reparation. In any case he can always be approached for advice. The alternative way of securing birds is to deal with one of the big firms which have a hard-won reputation to maintain. Catalogues or price lists should be sent for, and studied. Birds that carry a guarantee are cheaper, in the end, than those without.
Strain, health, breed, age are the big things. That being so, it is asking for trouble to buy odd birds all over the place.
All this may appear to the beginner to be a bother. But fowls need a good deal of attention, and attention bestowed on birds that are no good is wasted. There is nothing mechanical about a pullet or a hen. Eggs do not come automatically and by mere chance; at any rate, not in sufficient numbers to make the keeping of any old birds worth while.
A Choice of Ways.
The average beginner naturally desires to start collecting eggs with the least possible delay, and may be attracted by the idea of buying a number of hens. Here he must tread with great wariness, for reasons explained in later paragraphs.
There are several alternatives – pullets about to start laying (for the first time); birds four to five weeks, or eight weeks, or three months or more old. Price will probably be the determining factor here, about-to-lay pullets naturally costing most.
Day-old chicks can be purchased, with a broody hen to mother them. A sitting of eggs can be bought, with a broody hen to do the hatching and rearing.
The modern idea is to keep a hen just so long as she is really profitable, which, generally speaking – for poultry keeping is stiff with exceptions – is to the end of her second laying season. The bird then goes to the kitchen, for eating, or she is sold.
So if hens are purchased they should be accompanied by a definite guarantee as to age. Aged hens, as egg-layers, are likely to be dear at any price.
To keep the egg score steady, hens that have completed their second laying season are replaced by pullets. The latter, hatched in March or April of the same year, will be laying eggs during the winter – which is the off-season forthe hens that have laid steadily over a lengthy period; these are moulting, producing no eggs, whilst the pullets are filling the egg basket.
Pullets about to start laying (for the first time) are an attractive proposition. It all depends on the precise significance of that word ‘about.’ If it means at once, or almost at once, the proposition is not so good. If it means a month, or five weeks, the proposition is in every way excellent.
This is because a certain amount of upset is occasioned by the removal of the pullets. They need a short period in which to become accustomed to the new ownership and surroundings. The bird that is on the edge of laying, or the pullet already in lay, may be so unsettled by the removal that a lengthy hitch may occur before it settles down seriously to the job of uninterrupted egg production. The bird already in lay may even start lo moult, with a long rest to follow.
The pullet with four or five weeks to go before it starts to lay has that length of time in which to get thoroughly settled in its new home.
A similar unsettling has to be risked when, because of lack of extra accommodation, new pullets have to be put in along with established hens. The latter, with a proprietary right to house and run, may resent the new arrivals and cause feathers to fly; which may put the new arrivals off their feed for a time and correspondingly hinder the young birds’ progress. If it is not possible to house and run the two classes of birds separately the newcomer should be slipped into the roost quietly after dark. There is then the possibility that there will be little disturbance of the peace next morning.
Heavy breeds hatched in March should begin to lay in late September or the beginning of October. Light breeds should begin to lay at the same time if hatched in April. These arenetting may be nailed, upright, across the two corners at the back. That will ensure them all getting adequate breathing space.
Hardening Off the Pullets.
After the pullets have been in occupation four or five nights the amount of ventilation is increased by removing the straw, wood shavings, or dry soil that was placed beneath the false bottom – not all at once but over three or four nights. Then the straw on which they sleep is gradually reduced, until they are roosting on the bare wire or laths.
Much depends on the weather as to when the cold brooder can be dispensed with, but the young birds should be pretty well hardened by their eighth week. They can then be given a wire or lath bed in the house, raised a couple of inches from the floor or the well-littered ground.
Heavy breeds should not be allowed to perch under about three months, or crooked breastbones may result. Light breeds may perch as soon as they show an inclination to do so – on perches not less than 2 in. wide. It is essential that these young birds should be apart from older ones, or some of the youngsters may be slaughtered.
If a broody coop, as described later in discussing the Broody Hen, is available, it can easily be adapted as a cold brooder, with a small wooden-sided wire-topped run attached. This outfit, season and weather permitting, can be placed in any handy spot outdoors – on a lawn, for instance – and moved on daily. The back of the coop doing duty as a cold brooder should be to the north, and the patch of ground should be well drained. Damp, like draughts, must be avoided.
All Pullets – No Cockerels.
A male bird is not needed, except for breeding purposes. For egg production pure and simple the pullets and hens are quite independent of him.
A reputable dealer in growing pullets will guarantee that at least 95 per cent of the birds he sends out as pullets are really such. In some cases it is a 100 per cent guarantee.
A similar guarantee is possible with day-old chicks. These can be purchased as pure bred mixed chicks exactly as they leave the incubator – cockerels and pullets in unknown proportion; pure bred pullet chicks, guaranteed 95 per cent correct; pure bred cockerels, also guaranteed; sex-linked pullet chicks and sex-linked cockerels, guaranteed 95 per cent of the sex ordered.
This scxing of baby chicks is an expert’s job, though in some instances it gives no trouble at all, as in sex-linked breeds, where colour or marking is the guide. One such cross is the Rhode Island Red x Light Sussex. Pullets among the day-old chicks of this popular cross have the colouring of the male parent (the Rhode Island Red), whilst the cockerels resemble the mother (the Light Sussex). Another instance of sex-linkage is the Brown Leghorn x White Wyandotte; die pullets are darker than the cockerels, the latter taking after their mother. The same applies in the case of the Brown Leghorn x Light Sussex.
A broody hen will be needed to mother the day-old chicks, the the pullets that give the winter eggs, and they go on laying for twelve months, when they moult and rest and then start again – providing they are well and truly managed as explained below under ‘Eggs in Winter’.
Four to Five-weeks Pullets. These are a good deal cheaper than older pullets, one reason being that they need a certain amount of fussing over – being too tender as yet to face the chill of nights without extra protection in the roosting house. They should be given a cold brooder in which they can huddle together snugly and keep each other warm.
This cold brooder consists of a box, large enough for them to move about in, placed on its side so that it has an open front. A rough wooden frame, covered with small-mesh wire netting, or ordinary laths in. apart, is made to slide in and out on runners nailed on both sides about 3 in. up from the bottom – the bottom being that side on which the box now stands. This false bottom is then covered 2 in. to 3 in. deep with straw, for the young birds to sleep on, and the space below the false bottom is filled with more straw, or wood shavings, or even dry soil. To make things still more snug the open front is covered for about two-thirds down from the top with a piece of sacking or similar material. Fresh air is provided for by boring three or four holes in each side of the box a couple of inches down from the top. The box is then placed in a shed or the roosting house, its sacking-draped front about 1 ft. from the back of the house. The young birds will need coaxing into it, at dusk, until they recognize it for what it is – sleeping quarters for the night. To prevent any of them being jammed into corners, a strip of 4-in. mesh wire.k,.-4’procedure being explained in detail under ‘What to Do With Day-old Chicks’.
Buying a Sitting of Eggs. Shop eggs are ruled out here, for several reasons, including the matters of freshness and parentage. A sitting of eggs consists of a dozen, or thirteen if you are lucky. A hatch of ten chicks, with the aid of a broody hen, is an excellent result. Unfortunately it is not possible to determine beforehand which of the eggs, if any, are infertile; that is, incapable of hatching. And there may be more cockerels than pullets among the chicks. They are matters quite beyond the control of the dealer.
Nevertheless, it is a profitable and fascinating part of poultry keeping, and full instructions are given under ‘Using the Broody Hen’.
The Light Breeds.
Varieties in this class mostly lay eggs with white shells, and they are non-sitters; that is, they do not as a general rule show any inclination to go broody. For a reliable broody hen one must go to the heavy breeds. In one way that is in the light-breed favour, for whilst a bird is broody it is not laying.
Spring-hatched light pullets take a month less to start laying than spring-hatched heavies. Against that must be placed the fact that they do not reach the weight of the heavy breeds; which may count when hens past their laying prime are to become table birds.
They will not put up with conditions which the heavy breeds will tolerate. In a cold, wet-ground district they will not make the winter-laying effort that some of the heavy breeds will; in those circumstances a covered run with-a dry floor, or a scratching shed, is’ essential – thoroughly well lighted, facing south or south-east.
Among the most popular in the light breed class today are the White Leghorn, probably occupying top place: the Minorca and the Ancona.
The Heavy Breeds.
These are the brown- or tinted-shell layers, and the reliable sitters. The latter fact should be borne in mind when it is likely that a broody hen will be required. And they make nice weighty birds for table when that time comes.
The most popular in this class is the Rhode Island Red, with the Light Sussex a close second. The White Wyandotte is also a great favourite.
Popular Crosses. These include White Leghorn X Rhode Island Red; Black Leghorn x Rhode Island Red; Ancona X Rhode Island Red; Rhode Island Red x White Wyandotte; Rhode Island Red x Light Sussex; Brown Leghorn x Light Sussex;
Brown Leghorn x White Wyandotte.
How Many Eggs. Beginner’s average is, roughly, 150 to 200 eggs per bird in twelve months, depending on the owner and the bird both doing their share of the work.
There are ways of discovering which of the birds are laying satisfactorily, which are slacking, and which will be more profitable dished up at table than sharing the egg-layers’ food any longer.
One method is by trap nesting, whereby a bird, when it enters the nest to lay, automatically shuts itself in and remains on the nest until released. A shutter of plywood, or other thin wood, runs loosely up and down in grooves on either side of the opening to the nest box. This shutter is held up by a piece of stiff wire which is released when the entering bird moves the lower edge of the shutter with its back. The shutter at once goes quietly down behind it, and remains closed. Until the trap-nested bird is released no other bird can enter that nest, of course; and so the bird responsible for that particular egg is identified. Each bird should have a numbered ring on its leg (poultry accessories dealers stock a variety of leg rings), the number corresponding with an entry in a notebook, every egg the bird lays being recorded, with the date.
Trap nesting is not practicable unless one person has the definite job of visiting the nest boxes several times a day, at regular intervals. And it has to be done regularly over a lengthy period to be of any use.
The Observation Method.
The average poultry keeper with up to about a dozen birds will not trouble with trap nesting, but will get to know each of the birds individually. The one that mopes about or has a haggard expression may be ill ; more likely it is just a non-layer, and should be sold or marked down for the table.
The real egg-layers are always busy, pecking about or scratching, ‘talking,’ and bright-eyed, and generally taking an interest in life. They are the first up in the morning and the last to go to bed, as a general rule. They are always eager for their food, and inquisitive when the owner pays them a visit.
Before the Pullet Lays.
Comb (on top of the head) and wattles (at the bottom of the beak, at each side) of the pullet not yet in lay are not much developed. As the egg-laying period approaches, wattles and comb increase in size and become red. The bird is then all set for the performance which the owner desires. A further sign is apparent when the bird is handled. Beneath the tail, on both sides of the vent, are two bones, known as the pelvic or pubic bones. When the bird is not laying it is not possible to place a finger between these bones; but they open out when egg-laying becomes due, and there is space between them for two or three fingers side by side. The space increases as progress is made.
Handling a Bird.
If a wild grab is made at a bird it will flutter and squawk and upset itself, the other birds, and probably the beginner-owner – and elude the latter’s grasp.
It should be seized quietly, quickly, and gently with both hands, one over each wing. With wings pressed to the body the bird is helpless. The bird can then be passed over to the holder’s left side and its head inserted under the left arm so that it is facing to the rear and to the ground. The left hand then slides down to the bird’s feet and grips them; the right hand is then free. The bird that is laying well and is in good condition generally should feel plump. If it does not feel plump it is not getting enough to eat. Rations will have to be increased or fewer eggs will be the inevitable result.
If a bird has to be carried any distance it should be held under the left arm, as described, or be placed in a sack or covered basket.
Collecting the Eggs. This should be done several times a •day; or at any rate the nest boxes should be visited frequently. Whatever vessel the eggs are collected in should be lined with straw or other clean material, to save breakages. Odd eggs may be placed in a coat pocket, but risk of breakages is considerable.
Nest boxes should be waterproof, with a bed of straw, dried grass or dry leaves. If these are not available, the next best thing is dry soil. The boxes should be cleaned out regularly, for the sake of cleanliness and for the health and comfort of the birds.
Preserving Eggs. In time of plenty, or comparative plenty, thought should be given to leaner days. All eggs not required for more or less immediate use should be preserved. They will keep perfectly fresh, for many months, in a waterglass solution.
Waterglass, which looks like runny jelly, is purchased in small cheap tins at the chemist’s. A pound of the waterglass is stirred vigorously into a gallon of boiling water (or the same proportion for a lesser quantity) and when this solution is quite cold the eggs are placed in it and allowed to remain in it, completely covered, until wanted for use.
The vessel may be of galvanized iron, or glazed earthenware; a washstand jug, not otherwise in use, can be pressed into service. The container simply needs to be covered, to prevent evaporation and prevent dust entering. If more of the solution has to be added this should be allowed to become cold before it is poured in on top of the other. ‘ Only perfectly sound eggs, neither cracked nor dirty, should be preserved. Any that have become soiled should be washed before they go into the waterglass. All eggs should be placed in, not dropped in, and the top layer should always have at least I in. of the solution covering them. They must be allowed to become cold before going into the liquid.
A cool, dry cellar or larder is a good storage place. It is essential that the store be frostproof.
A record should be kept of every egg collected by entry in a note-book and every bird used on the table be duly noted down. Every purchase of food or appliances or additional stock should likewise be recorded. Only thus can the poultry keeper know by how much he is gaining or losing in his enterprise.
These are the table Birds.
A hen at the age of about two and a half years has probably given of its best as an egg layer. After that it may continue to lay moderately satisfactorily, but its performance will be definitely inferior. The owner will then have to decide whether the bird is to continue on the food list or whether it shall itself figure as food. Cockerels, not being needed unless breeding is contemplated, should be fattened up, to figure in the menu as soon as suitable size and weight have been attained. A bird placed in a coop on its own tor fattening does not always put on the weight expected; it needs a companion, otherwise it may become restive and even lose flesh. So unless at least a couple of birds are to be fattened at the same time, the trouble is not really worth while.
Fattening for market is done mostly with a cramming machine, and the operation demands skill which comes only from practical experience. The best that can be done in ordinary circumstances is to see the bird gets all the food it can eat for two or three weeks before killing.
The Flesh Formers.
The heavy breeds, male or female, put on more flesh than the light breeds.
The most popular table bird in this country – most popular, that is, for fattening – is the Sussex. which is also a splendid egg producer. The Rhode Island Red, before or after its egg-laying days and also as a cockerel, is a splendid table bird. So too is the Rhode Island Red x Light Sussex, and the Wyandotte.
But because a variety does not happen to be lauded as a great eater it does not mean that it is not a very acceptable addition to the menu, providing it is in good condition and is not a stringy, tough old hen that has been running around for years.
The Caponised Cockerel.
A young cockerel can be induced to put on great weight and its flesh given an unusually tender and juicy quality by means of a surgical operation carried out when the bird is about twelve weeks old. The heavy breeds are most favoured for this purpose, and capons – that is, unsexed cockerels – are in big demand in the market. But as the operation demands considerable skill and special surgical instruments the ordinary home food producer must needs be content to cook his cockerels in their natural condition.
How to Kill a Fowl.
A bird marked for the table should have all food withheld from it for not less than twenty-four hours before it is killed. This is so that crop and intestines may be empty; otherwise the carcase may rapidly go bad, especially in hot weather.
The killing operation is devoid of all fuss and unpleasantness if the neck is dislocated, just behind the head; that is, at the first joint. Very little muscular effort is needed wait on the convenience of their owner, getting their meals at odd periods – hurried and ill-prepared – have their revenge in no uncertain fashion. Few if any eggs, and bewildering complaints, follow on insufficient and ill-timed and irregular feeds.
The First Feed.
This should be given as soon as possible after daybreak. It may consist of wet mash, or mixed chicken corn if the latter is available. The mash or meal, to be purchased at the corn dealer’s, may work out at about 2 02. per bird, per day, plus boiled house scraps – potato peelings, greenstuff, onion tops, fish heads and bones, bits of gristle and fat, practically anything and everything edible that is regarded as waste from kitchen or table.
If there is no possibility of getting corn, mash will serve for both breakfast and supper.
How Much Mash to Give.
It is reckoned that when no grain of any kind is given, the ordinary bird requires at least 2 ounces of mash per day plus J lb. of boiled scraps – the weight of the latter as taken after the boiling, and after moisture has been drained off.
This total of 10 ounces would be divided between breakfast and supper.
A large saucepan or other suitable vessel should be reserved as a stock-pot to receive all boilable peelings, leaves, odds and ends of edible bits, as these accumulate during the day. The pot will not be on the fire all day, of course. All that is needed is that it shall be kept filled, and the contents boiled until mashable – for mixing with the meal and making the wet mash.
Egg shells can go in, with great advantage. They should be crushed up very small and mixed well in with the rest. Fragments of shell will be eaten by the birds, who thus receive material essential for forming shells for eggs which they themselves will lay. There is no question of this encouraging egg eating among fowls.
Bits of gristle, bacon rind and similar tough oddments should be passed through the family mincing machine before going into the stock-pot or being given as tit-bits between regular meals. Every scrap will then be eaten.
Bits of bread may go into the stock-pot, but they are more useful when dried, on top of the kitchen stove or in the oven, until quite crisp. They should then be pounded up, or passed through the mincer, the crumbs being added to the mash. They help to dry off the boiled mixture after this has been squeezed in a colander.
Mixing the Mash.
After as much as possible of the moisture has been squeezed from the boiled scraps these are combined with the meal, the mixing being done, not in the feeding troughs but in a large basin or bowl or bucket – whatever is large enough for the job.
Mixing is done with the two hands, or with a trowel or a stick, enough for one feed only being prepared at a time. If this daily job takes place in a shed, it is advisable to take precautions against the stuff being scattered about. Otherwise rats or mice will be attracted.
The mixture must not be sloppy, or digestive troubles will result. Moist is a better word than wet to describe the correct mash. If thefull allowance of meal has been added and the mixture is too wet, the dried breadcrumbs (advised previously) are very useful, enough being added to bring the mixture to a condition in which it is moist all through, with no sodden lumps or dry pieces.
It should be placed in the feeding troughs whilst still warm.
Watch the Birds Feed.
Appetites vary from time to time. One day the birds will eat more than another. It is impossible to lay down any hard and fast rules as to quantities really needed. The owner has to judge of this by personal observation.
The mash should be left before the birds for three or four hours. If any remains after that time it is likely to be trampled and soiled, and so should be removed.
If they are being overfed there will be no rush to the troughs when diese are filled. If the happy medium is struck, the birds will always be eager to tackle what is placed before them.
Variety the Spice of Life.
The foregoing diet should be varied if possible, by the addition to the mash of such things as meat meal, or fish meal, or bone meal, or finely cut green bone – about a handful for a dozen birds. A visit to the local corn-chandler or poultry food dealer will reveal what possibilities he in this direction. In this matter of green bone, green means fresh and uncooked, and cut up in a bone-cutting machine; the family mincer is not adequate to this task. The addition to the mash of a small quantity of poultry spice helps to keep birds in condition.
Water, Grit, Lime.
Each feeding time attention should be given to the drinking water. The vessels should be filled up with fresh clean water – the chill taken off in winter. In hot weather and in the absence of the owner someone of the household should be deputed to keep an eye on this necessity – a small job whilst eggs are being collected.
Grit should be supplied in plenty, in a box which cannot be upset by trampling feet. A good plan is to hang the box on a fence, wall, side of the roosting house, or on the run wire, 6 in. up from the ground. The same applies to shell-forming lime – crushed oyster or cockle shell; if these can be procured as powder this can be mixed in with the mash every second or third day, at the rate of about a tablespoonful for a dozen birds. If sufficient egg shells are available these can be crushed up and added to the mash daily, in which case little if any oyster or cockle shell will be needed.
The Second Feed. Fresh greenstuff is essential, and this will form the midday feed. Cabbage leaves, outer leaves of lettuce, radish tops, thinnings from the vegetable plot, chickweed and other fresh weeds, lawn mowings – whatever is in season should be put to this use.
This material is given raw, and as fresh as possible. To make the birds work for it the material should be suspended about 18 in. from the ground in a wire-fronted container or in a string bag, or a holder of wide-meshed wire netting or from a stake. The object in not throwing it on the ground is to provide the birds with jumping exercise; it is also kept unsoiled.
Stems of cabbage and other greens should be split down the centre, to enable the fowls to peck at the interior. Such roots as those of mangold and swede are invaluable. These also should be cut open. They can be hung from a string, for the birds to peck at as they please.
Carrots and other small roots, disfigured or otherwise spoiled for the table, are best minced up and added to the mash. Or the minced pieces can be placed in a box.
Any pieces finished with should be removed daily. They quickly decompose if left lying about.
The supply of these midday feed items, and of additional waste for incorporation with the wet mash, may present something of a problem to the backyard poultry keeper. But usually an arrangement can be made with neighbours or the local greengrocer. A weekly egg in exchange for waste is no bad bargain on either side.
The poultry keeper with a field for his birds to run in is relieved of the business of providing much greenstuff in spring and summer. His birds will do considerable foraging for themselves, at the same time collecting worms, insects and other small fry that help to keep them in tip-top condition.
The Third Feed.
Birds have to be sent to bed full up; not gorged with food but given the opportunity to eat all they want. If mixed poultry corn is available each bird can have a good handful, more or less according to their appetite, instead of mash.
It should be buried in the litter that covers the floor of the house, if the birds have no run, or in the litter of die covered run or scratching shed; or raked into the soil of the open run, or scattered in the grass if the birds have daytime liberty in a field. They then have to work for it.
The time to give this last feed of the day is shortly before they go to roost, which means that the hour varies considerably as between summer and winter. If for any reason the appropriate time is missed on any day and it becomes too dark for the birds to see to do their scratching before the grain can be given it should not be scattered but be placed in a box or boxes, or in the troughs used for feeding the wet mash. They have no difficulty then in taking their fill.
If no grain is available and feeding is restricted to mash, this must form the last meal of the day – prepared as for the morning meal and placed in troughs; the wet mash to be given a couple of hours before roosting time. The owner should note how much they leave, and adjust the quantity accord- ingly. If it is all eaten quickly, die quantity should be increased; this is of special importance in winter, when birds will be on the perches through a long night. If they have to go to bed with appetites still keen their condition will suffer and there will be fewer eggs.
Winter feeding needs to be carried out as early in the morning as possible, to make up for the prolonged night’s fast.
The Corn versus Mash Argument.
When all-mash feeding is a necessity because of corn being unobtainable, the old corn versus wet mash argument ceases to have interest. However, the argument concerns the question as to whether corn should be fed in the morning and mash at night or vice versa. The two schools of thought each have their doughty champions.
The ordinary home food producer will find little in it. If he has any choice in the matter he may please himself, with no appreciable difference to the number of eggs he gathers.
Some maintain that mash for breakfast fills the birds up without any scratching effort on their part, and that for some time thereafter the birds are inclined to mope around without exercise; whereas a first feed of buried grain starts them off with exercise, a mash supper sending them to roost warm and with a well-fed feeling.
Others maintain that warm mash warms them up first thing on a winter morning, a grain supper helping to maintain bodily heat throughout the night.
Where the choice exists it might well be made a matter of convenience, the question resolving itself into whether the poultry keeper has more leisure to prepare the mash in the evening or the early morning. But there must be no chopping and changing; it must always be evening, or always early morning.
In Place of Grain.
Where the all-mash feeding must be adhered to, lack of corn may be made up for, in part, by giving the birds such things as sunflower seed (from plants grown in the garden or on the allotment), hawthorn berries, acorns, and beech mast.
Sunflower seed is an excellent winter stand-by, where space for a number of plants can be afforded from spring onwards. The annual varieties are sown outdoors in April, in full sun, ½ in. deep in rich soil and I ft. or so apart, kept well watered, and occasionally fed with liquid manure – a good use for some of the droppings from the roosdng house. The plants in flower are very decoradvc and the heads of some varieties are huge.
When the seed in these sunflower heads is ripe the heads are cut off with a few inches of stem and hung upside down in a shed. They are given to the birds as needed, the seeds being pecked out eagerly. The seeds contain a good deal of oil, hence their value for poultry feeding in winter.
Hawthorn berries, from May trees, are always acceptable, and their gathering when red and ripe is no long job. Where oak trees are plendful acorns can be collected in autumn by die sackful. They should be dried under cover, then shelled and cracked; this is most speedily done by laying some out on an old sack on a hard path and passing the garden roller over them. Prepared in diis manner, acorns can be fed to poultry each day at a rate not exceeding about 2 ounces per bird.
The nuts or mast of beech trees should have the roller passed over them so that their husks are broken, thus making it possible for the birds to get at the kernels.
Eggs in Winter.
Pullets hatched in March (heavy breeds) and April (light breeds) start laying, all being well, in late September or early October of the same year. These are die winter egg layers. Older birds – the hens – may continue in lay, well into winter, in some cases. But die annual moult upsets dieir production, as explained under ‘When the Birds Moult’. The first-year pullets should lay steadily for twelve months before it becomes their turn for rest.
How to keep the pullets laying during the least favourable period of those twelve months – that is, winter – is one of the many diings the poultry keeper learns by (sometimes hard) experience. It is no consolation to him that he has eggs which in the months of plenty he preserved in waterglass, whilst birds which by all the rules of the game should be laying well are adding nothing to his store.
He himself may be breaking some of those rules and so making it impossible for his birds to live up to expectations.
Dry Feathers, Dry Feet.
It is easy enough to secure these two essendals in an average spring and summer. But when those two con-didons become more dian ever necessary, in winter, many a poultry keeper is found wandng.
The roosdng house may be wrongly placed, so that instead of facing in the direction that ensures the maximum sun, its front is buffeted by the coldest wind that winter can produce and is drenched by driving rains. It may have been placed in a dip, where surface drainage accumulates at every winter downpour and the run becomes a bog.
The right thing should be done without loss of time – the house shifted to a cosier position, to a higher level.
The roof may be leaky. It should be re-covered with tarred felt. Or old linoleum, if stout enough to keep out rain, will do at a pinch. The home-constructed roosting house may have been given a roof with insufficient pitch – that is, slope. The remedy is obvious.
If litter on the floor becomes damp, the birds will suffer from damp feet. The answer to this is change of litter as often as necessary, and another keen scrutiny of the roof to see if after all there is a leak which escaped previous observation. Dry feathers and dry feet are half the battle in winter egg production. This applies as much outdoors as in.
Assuredly the birds will not enjoy dry feet outdoors if the soil of the open (uncovered) run holds rain for any length of time. If the soil dries up quickly, well and good; birds can be kept shut up in the house when outdoor conditions are bad and allowed to run out between whiles.
Those between whiles will be much more frequent if the house is raised a couple of feet from the ground, so that the soil below the raised floor is always dry and the birds can exercise there.
It would be advisable to cover the open run with a well-sioped wooden roof, tar-felted, if the reasonably dry-ground conditions the owner visualized when he took possession fail to materialize.
To encourage winter eggs the pullets should be given every possible opportunity to take exercise. The latter results in improved blood circulation, and more frequently occupied nest boxes. It may be possible to improve the condition of the open run by digging it over very frequently, to assist free drainage, and by the use of sifted dry fire ashes.
If the birds can be let out, in suitable weather, to scratch for worms and grubs in a vacant part of the vegetable ground, or among fruit trees and bushes, great good will be done all round. Soil will be freed of pests and the fowls fattened with welcome extra food and toned up by their own exertions.
Ventilation and Light.
The interior of a roosting house needs to be warm in winter but not fuggy. Adequate ventilation is secured by manipulation of the drop-down windows. These need to be adjusted and readjusted after due thought, so that neither wind nor rain can enter but there is still a current of air – not a piercing draught. To prevent a draught it may be necessary to close the pop-hole door at night, apart from any necessity there may be to keep the birds entirely shut up.
Proper ventilation is not secured by means of cracks in the house-sides or floor. They give rise to draughts, and should be sealed with strips of tarred felt, or linoleum, or pieces of board.
A light interior should be striven for at all costs. Birds that have to be shut in for periods in semi-darkness naturally become gloomy, without either the spirit or the power to lay eggs. It may be necessary to contrive a window in one side of the house. It might be advisable to replace the top half of the door with glass.
Food and Water.
Much depends on care in feeding. Because it is too wet or too snowy or too cold to go down to the fowl house at the proper time the birds are left hungry; perhaps with frozen water.
As soon as possible after daybreak is the time at which the birds want their breakfast. This includes Sundays, when a lie in bed is so attractive to the owner. But fowls will not consent to be kept break-fastless on the perch, even one day a week, and go on producing eggs.
Breakfast includes a drink of water. If this is frozen they can’t drink. Water at all times is another essential to egg production, in winter as in summer. It should be given with the chill taken off, and during cold days a little warm water should be added two or three times during the daylight hours to that in the container.
It is easy enough to put birds off laying, by carelessness or omissions. It is difficult to start them again.
Winter is the testing time. If revision of plans is called for it should be carried out before damage is done.
Using the Broody Hen.
The simplest and cheapest way to produce and rear chicks is with a sitting of eggs and a broody hen.
A broody hen is a bird which above all other things desires to sit on eggs for the twenty-one days necessary to hatch them. She shows this very strong desire by going into a nest box and staying there, refusing to be put out; or if put out, refusing to stay out.
This inclination is very strong in the heavy breeds and infrequent in the light breeds; only the former are reliable as broodies.
If the broody is not required to hatch out a sitting of eggs, it should be dealt with as explained later under the heading ‘Curing a Broody’.
It may happen that just at the time a broody really is required there is not a bird in that condition, in which case one may be purchased, probably locally. Unfortunately it is not possible to induce a hen or a pullet to go broody.
The purchase of a broody can be a really good investment. If it is a young or youngish bird of good laying strain it may start to lay again four or five weeks after the sitting of eggs which it has been mothering has hatched.
The Eggs for Hatching.
Ten chicks hatched from a sitting of twelve or thirteen eggs is good going. The eggs should be from birds of a thoroughly good laying strain. Apart from any question of breed, strain is of great importance. For best results they should weigh not less than 2 ounces each, and they cannot be too fresh.
These essentials mean that shop eggs cannot be considered. Hatching eggs need to be purchased from a thoroughly reliable source, and a good price paid for them.
The poultry keeper who wishes to set eggs from his own birds will realize that only eggs from hens of thoroughly good performance as layers, mated with a strong young cockerel from a good laying strain, are of use. The eggs should all be from the same day’s laying (or as near as possible) or some will hatch earlier than others, dius complicating the feeding of the chicks.
When to Hatch.
Pullets born too early in the year (before March) will start to lay during summer (six to seven months after hatching) and then in all probability will be overtaken in autumn by the annual moult. The moult is always followed by a rest from egg-laying, and in this case egg-laying may not be resumed until the turn of the year. Thus the most valuable eggs of all – the winter ones – are missed. Heavy breed pullets born later than March may sometimes start co lay in early winter, though probably their first eggs will not be laid until the year-end or later.
The most profitable time to put a broody on a sitting of heavy- breed eggs is between the second week in February and the first seven days of March. It takes twenty-one days for chicks to hatch out, which means that these birds will be born during March, and if all goes well they will be laying in late September or early October and condnue the winter through.
Light-breed eggs can be hatched a month later, in April, the pullets catching up on the heavy-breed birds hatched in March and laying at the same time as these. So the most profitable time to put down light-breed eggs is between the second week of March and the first seven days of April, the birds hatching out in the latter month.
The Sitting Coop.
A broody and a sitting of eggs arranged for, the next consideration is a coop. This should be in position before the broody and the eggs arrive.
It can be made from a wooden box, or oddments of wood. Dimensions are not of supreme importance, but it should be roomy enough to allow the sitting bird to turn round comfortably, and if it is to be out in the open it must be weatherproof.
The accompanying diagram shows a coop constructed of odd pieces of timber that happened to be handy. It is 2 ft. wide, 20 in. from back to front, 20 in. deep at the front, 15 in. deep at the back – the roof thus sloping sharply backwards. The roof is covered with a piece of linoleum in the absence of roofing felt. There is no floor to the coop.
The front has five vertical slats, the centre one made to lift up to form the entrance and exit ( B). They are 1 in. wide and in. thick. The two outer slats are about 1 in. in from their respective sides. Then comes a space of 3 in., and another slat. That leaves a centre space of 10 in., down the middle of which runs the fifth slat, the latter a few inches longer than the others.
The four outer slats are let into notches cut in the edge of the roof ( c), and nailed there. At their lower ends they are nailed to a 1-in. wide and 1 in. thick strip running from side to side of the coop at the bottom. In the centre of this bottom strip ( D), and in the centre of the roof edge, are notches in which the fifth or centre slat runs easily up and down. To keep this centre slat in place a piece of lath is nailed across the top of the front and a similar piece across the bottom.
The centre slat is raised to let the broody in and out, and lowered to keep it in. Chicks can pass in and out as they please, through the spaces between the slats.
That completes the coop. In the case of heavy clay ground, or soil inclined to wetness, a wooden floor would be necessary; or instead of being placed outdoors the floorless coop could stand in a non-draughty shed.
Placing the Coop.
In the open the coop should be in a sunny position, shielded from draughts or strong winds, and where the broody is not distracted by the sight of other fowls. Also, the less disturbance to which she is subjected from passers-by, cats and dogs, the better.
Making the Nest.
Outdoors a shallow hole should be scooped in the soil, deeper in the centre than at the sides. It should be about the size and depth of a soup plate and is to be in the centre of the space covered by the coop.
Moisture will rise up, through the hay or straw with which this depression is to be lined, and thus provide the natural conditions required. A 1 in. thick lining is ample. The hay or straw should be teased out with the fingers, spread over the bottom and banked up at the sides. This arrangement ensures that the eggs will keep to the centre and not spread out.
If the bottomless coop is placed in a shed, or is provided with a wooden floor, some turf and soil should be laid down to provide the nest foundation.
Settling the Broody.
Time to put the broody on the nest is after dark. If she comes to hand a day before the eggs, a couple of pot eggs (solid dummies) should be placed in the nest. She will settle down happily on these. If she refuses to do so she should be returned as unsatisfactory – as an unreliable sitter; but with a heavy breed this very seldom happens. Before she is first placed on the nest she should be dusted with pyrethrum powder, especially the underparts, the insect powder being worked down between feathers to the skin. This helps to keep her comfortable.
The hatching eggs are placed under her at night, one by one; the pot eggs (if used) first being withdrawn gently. As each of the hatching eggs is placed by her side she will shuffle it under herself. She should be allowed to poke it out of sight before the next one is given to her. When the dozen or thirteen have been stowed away she should be covered up for the night, with a wooden coop-front.
This should completely cover the front with the exception of 2 in. at the top, that amount of space being left for ventilation. The wooden front is kept in place by a brick, or a piece of stick pushed into the ground in front of it. If this is not considered sufficient protection against rats the front should be continued to the top of the coop, with 1 in. diameter holes bored near the upper edge to admit air; and it could be secured with two hooks and screw-eyes.
Feeding the Broody.
Only one feed a day should be given, as near as possible at the same time each morning or evening, whichever is the more convenient. Morning or evening having been decided upon the period must be kept to strictly. She will expect her food at the same time each day, not half an hour earlier one day and half an hour later the next. The idea is to keep her contented. If she becomes restless there may be an unsatisfactory hatch.
Irregularity of meals must be avoided, however troublesome this may seem. There should be no noise, or dog sniffing around to upset her.
She is not fed on the nest but allowed to come out, through the central gap which is increased by removal of the loose fifth slat. She may be reluctant to budge. If so, she must be lifted off. This is done by placing both hands under the wings and lifting her well up and quietly withdrawing her.
The object in placing the hands under the wings is to see that there are no eggs there; and she is lifted well up so that her feet do not become entangled in the nest lining with possible dire results to some of the eggs.
Out of the coop, she will shake herself, walk around, then make for the food and the fresh water. A dish or pot of the latter should remain in the coop at nights. If the weather is chilly the water should be slightly warmed before being given.
If grain is available she should be offered as much as she can eat at a time. Broken maize is excellent. If mash has 06to be given this should be mixed with warm water; it must not be sloppy but just moist.
A Mash Diet.
On a mash feed she is bound to soil the nest and eggs; it cannot be avoided. The nest will need to be remade as often as necessary, when she is out of the coop, soiled eggs washed, and legs and feet also if these require it. The washing water should be warm – comfortably hot for the hand – soiled eggs being cleaned with a soft wet cloth and replaced as quickly as possible. There should be no difficulty in dealing with the legs and feet, as a good broody is wonderfully docile.
Grit and Dust Bath.
Before she returns to the nest she will probably visit the grit box, placed by the side of the food and water, and also take a dust bath. If there is no soil dry enough for the latter she should be given a shallow box of sifted fire ashes.
Back on the Eggs. In windy weather she may return to the nest before she has done much more than peck at the food. If this happens the food must be placed just outside the slats where she can reach it, and a few extra minutes allowed for her to have her fill before the coop-front is closed up – if her feeding time is evening. If she is in a really quiet and secluded spot and there is no danger from rats the front need not be covered during the day.
In the open, a temporary roof should be rigged up to cover the small space between coop and food if she has to come out during rain.
Normal time for a broody to be off the nest varies between about fifteen and thirty minutes. If at the end of that time she shows no sign of going back she should be lifted gently and replaced on the eggs.
Back on the nest she will turn the eggs over and change their position, carefully working some of the outside ones to the centre and rearranging centre ones at the outside, so that all shall have their turn in the warmest position.
Testing the Eggs.
Whilst the broody is off the nest on the seventh day the eggs can be tested, to see how things are going. Taken indoors they can be held up, one by one, in front of an electric bulb or other strong light and viewed through a tube of rolled-up newspaper in one end of which the egg makes a tight fit. The other end of the paper tube is placed close to one eye. If the egg appears dark in parts and is streaked, or veined, it is reasonably certain that it is fertile and will hatch. If the egg appears to be clear, it is not fertile, and cannot hatch. In that case it should not be returned to the nest, but should still be good enough for cooking. It is no use replacing any eggs which have to be removed with fresh ones; they would hatch too late. The idea is to get all the chicks out round about the twenty-first day. Meanwhile, the chick run should be prepared.
The Chick Run.
The accompanying diagram shows a simple run for attaching, with two hooks and screw-eyes, to the coop when the chicks hatch out. Exact dimensions are not important. It should be the width of the coop and can be about 18 in. deep and 5 ft. long. Two sides and one end are of wood; the end which joins the coop is left open. The top is covered with 1 in. mesh wire netting; it is made in two parts, the half nearer to the coop being hinged to lift up. The top may be all in one; but it is more convenient if hinged.
Chicks enter this run as they please, through the spaces between the coop slats. The hen can be prevented from joining them in the run by keeping the centre (movable) slat down in position. To allow her to run with them, the centre slat is withdrawn.
The object in keeping her apart from them when they are out in the run (though this is not always necessary) is to safeguard the chicks from being trampled on or scattered when the broody is enjoying a scratch. Some broodies are much more careful in this respect and can be allowed to enter the run with the chicks.
The object of providing the enclosed run at all is to prevent the broody, when she is let out of the coop for food and exercise, taking the chicks too far and walking them off their legs; it is also protection against cats, rats and other enemies.
The Twenty-first Day.
When it is seen that the first chick is out the broody may be lifted up very gently and the broken shell (or shells, for several may have hatched together) removed. Broken shells may hinder other chicks from emerging, pieces becoming accidentally fitted around the eggs from which others are struggling to get free.
One or more of the eggs may still be uncracked some time after the general emergence. In this case it is possible to give assistance to the chick inside, providing it is still alive. The overdue egg should be placed in a pail of water as hot as can be borne by the hand. If the egg is addled, or the bird inside is dead, the egg will either remain still or sink to the bottom. If it contains a live cluck the egg will bob about, indicating that the youngster is trying to free itself; the egg should be taken from the hot water and replaced under the broody. The brief soaking will have softened the shell, this helping the chick to break its way out.
The same treatment may be carried out if an egg is chipped but the chick appears to be finding further effort too great for it. The unchipped part of the shell should be held in hot water for a couple of minutes, the egg then being replaced under the broody. If after that die chick is unable to get free, further effort to save it is not worth while.
The chicks have to be left with the broody from the time they hatch out until she shows, by pecking and other hostile actions, that she has grown tired of having them around. The youngsters come into the world full fed. Each has absorbed the yolk of its respective eggj this keeps diem going for about thirty-six hours, and until the end of that time they do not need feeding, though of course the broody does.
Curing a Broody Bird.
Whilst a bird is broody, sitting on eggs or not, it will not lay. If it is not required for hatching purposes it can be induced to give up its broody feeling and start laying eggs again, within a few days, by isolating it in a coop. For this purpose, however, the coop should be provided with a wire floor, or low platform, of about 1 in. mesh; the idea being not to make the bird too comfortable.
It should be imprisoned in this coop for seven or eight days, with plenty of food, drinking water, greenstuff and a supply of grit placed just outside within easy reach. At the end of that time the bird will have decided it does not want to sit any longer and it can be returned to its companions.
But only by acting very promptly in this manner will a speedy cure be effected. If the bird has already been sitting for some hours in one of the nest boxes it may prove an obstinate case and eggs will be long delayed. Nest boxes should be inspected every night, especially on the approach of and during warm weather. A bird then found in a nest box – instead of sleeping on the perch – is going broody.
What to Do With Day-old Chicks.
If day-old chicks are purchased a broody hen should be available to mother them. Spring-hatched birds are the easiest to rear, because of the growing weather ahead of them.
The broody should be settled on the nest in the coop, and two or three pot eggs placed under her. Shortly after dark she should be presented with the purchased chicks, placing these one by one close to her side, and the dummy eggs taken away. She will tuck the newcomers under her as though they were her own hatching.
Procedure then is the same as for chicks from a sitting of eggs hatched on the spot.
Chicks’ First Feed.
There is not a lot of meat on a baby chick. The average weight of a day-old is about 1 ½ ounces The tendency for beginners is to feed them up from the first cheep. But Nature has provided each chick with rations for the first thirty-six hours of its life, and not until that period has expired should food be given. Meanwhile, however, the broody requires to be fed and watered.
The chicks’ first feed may consist of finely chopped hard-boiled egg mixed with an equal measure of crushed dry bread (baked hard and passed through a mincer) and moistened with warm milk. They should be provided with this every two hours of daylight, starting as soon as possible after it becomes light until it is almost dark, for the first three or four days.
If this ideal mixture is not possible they may be given ordinary poultry meal made moist (not sloppy) with warmed water, at the same short intervals, up to about the tenth day; after which minced greenstuff should be mixed with the meal.
If chick grain is obtainable the moist feeds may be alternated with grain feeds, each day. The two hours’ interval between meals during daylight hours should be adhered to for the first four weeks, after which four meals a day will be sufficient until the grown birds go on ordinary diet as explained under ‘Breakfast, Lunch, Supper’.
Giving the Food.
At first the food may be spread out on the narrow wooden strip (or wider platform if this is provided) at the bottom of the coop front. The broody will show them how to peck at it. Later, when they venture out into the run, the food can be placed in shallow troughs.
Special types of these are sold by poultry appliance dealers, constructed so that it is impossible for chicks to trample in the food or soil it. Or troughs made as described under ‘A Plan for Poultry’ may be used. There should be sufficient feeding accommodation to ensure that the inevitable forward chicks do not get more than their share. And fresh water must always be available – in a shallow trough or basin which cannot be upset and in which the chicks cannot drown themselves.
After the last feed at night (given as late as practicable) an extra ration should be put down, just outside the coop slats, so that the chicks can help themselves before the official breakfast next morning.
Plenty of fine sand, or small grit, should be available at all times.
Too Many Helpers.
One of the perils to which chicks are exposed is overfeeding. If the owner is away from home most of the day, some member of the household will have to be pressed into service as an assistant – to prepare and give the two-hourly meals. It should be the job of that appointed assistant and no one else. Too many helpers will almost certainly result in over-feeding, and this may possibly have fatal results.
However well fed chicks are they will run, clamorously starving, to greet any visitor. But promiscuous feeding must not be allowed.
The question arises as to how much food to give. This can only be determined by careful observation. The chicks must be allowed to take their fill, and as soon as it is seen that they are losing interest in whatever of the meal remains this should be removed.
After the first eight or ten days raw greenstuff should figure as frequently as possible in the menu, additional to corn if this is given, mixed with the mash. The greenstuff should not be given whole, in any case, or chicks will bolt large portions and the result will be digestive troubles. It should be passed through the domestic mincing machine, and as a change from mixing it with the mash it can be mixed with minced dried bread.
It can consist of chickweed, dandelion, lettuce seedlings and outer leaves, thinnings generally from the vegetable plot, onion tops, tender cabbage leaves; and every effort should be made to include minced carrot (the roots). Bacon rind, bits of gristle and fat, and similar meaty scraps should likewise be passed through the mincer; these tit-bits will be fought for by the hungry chicks with tremendous clamour and vigour.
Damp and draughts are to be most carefully avoided. They are causes of much chick mortality. If common-sense is exercised, not a chick need be lost from either cause.
If the coop is placed in an otherwise unoccupied roosting house, or in a well-lighted shed, there may be a possibility that a draught sweeps over the floor, and steps must be taken to put that right. The floor, especially if it is a wooden one, should be covered fairly thickly with dry litter – straw or dried leaves, or fern fronds at a pinch. And if the outdoor chick run has a wooden floor, this should be similarly covered.
Plenty of fresh air, sunlight and exercise are essentials. That being so, the best place for spring and later-hatched chicks is outdoors, in a sunny, sheltered position on a lawn, mown short, or on reasonably dry soil, the latter to be sprinkled as often as convenient with fresh lawn mowings.
The outdoor run should be covered in part widi some light shading material – leafy twigs will do – if sun shines strongly upon it, so that chicks may shelter from the strong rays.
In wet periods the run should be covered with waterproof material, or a sheet of galvanized iron – anything that will keep out rain – so that the chicks will not get wet and will not have to slop about in sodden grass or mud.
The coop and the run attached to it should be moved a short distance each day, if possible, so that it occupies an untrodden patch. And the front of the coop should be covered, with the exception of the top 2 infor ventila- tion – every night after the chicks have setded down under the broody.
After the first week or so the run may no longer be needed, if there is no danger from cats. Broody and chicks can then be allowed out together, to roam within a wired-in space in the garden or elsewhere, or if a field is available they might be allowed liberty in it.
Inspection of the inside of the coop should be carried out each day, for the purpose of maintaining absolute cleanliness.
Parting Broody and Chicks, After about five weeks the broody will be far less solicitous of the chicks’ welfare. The day will come when she shows plainly that she wants to see the back of them. If she is a young bird, of good laying strain, she will want to start laying again. She may even recommence to lay after a month, in the coop, before she becomes impatient with her brood.
There should be no hurry to break the family up, but once the broody begins to peck the youngsters she should be removed and put back widi the older birds, or given quarters on her own if she happens to be the only grown-up fowl on the place.
The young birds, weaned at last, may continue in occupation of the coop, this to be given a raised floor of wire netting or slats, as described under the heading ‘Four to Five Weeks Pullets’.
Separating Pullets and Cockerels. When the birds are about sixteen weeks old it is time to segregate the sexes if this has not already been done, the cockerels to be sold, or fattened for the table. In distinguishing these, spur and comb development form a guide, those of the cockerels being larger than the hens’. Also, an early effort to crow points out the young cockerel, and sparring contests between young cockerels may be expected.
Wire 4 ft. high is sufficient to keep heavy breeds confined to the run. Some of the light-breed birds, however, may develop a fondness for flying over it and going astray, with devastating consequences to garden or allotment plants – one’s own or the neighbours’.
The won’t-stay-home bird can be prevented from straying by shortening the long, stiff flight-feathers of one wing. These can be cut back with scissors to within 2 in. or so of their base, without hurt to the bird. One wing only should be dealt with, the effect being to make the bird lopsided when it tries to take to the air. Its efforts then to clear 4-ft. netting are without avail.
When the Birds Moult.
A change of feathers in autumn is a natural procedure. One by one the old feathers come loose and drop out, and new ones develop. As a rule the first sign of this is apparent in nest boxes or the roosting house, and the first cast feathers may be noticed as early as July, while other birds may not start moulting until October or thereabouts.
The time a bird takes to complete moulting may be as short as about six weeks, or it may be twice as long. One point of great importance is that whilst the moult is in progress the bird does not lay, and laying is not resumed for some time afterwards; a rest always follows. With careful attention the moulting may be speeded up and the rest shortened, and the egg loss reduced.
The True Moult.
What at first may be mistaken for the moult may be the habit of feather plucking. This may become evident at any time of year, and it should be dealt with promptly as explained under ‘Feather Plucking’ –
Aiding the Moult.
As a rule the moulting bird is prone to lose weight and go off its feed. A tonic is invaluable at this time. One of the proprietary poultry spices may be given, according to directions accompanying it, mixed with the wet mash daily whilst die moult lasts. Or a little curry powder may be given in the same way, in the should be attended to more frequently during the day.
Eggs may also be cracked in the nest because this is not sufficiently littered. There should always be a good lining of hay or straw, or bracken; failing these, sifted dry soil, kept loose by daily stirring and frequent renewal, is better than no cushion at all.
Double-yolked Eggs. Too much boiled potato or potato peelings mixed with the mash makes all mash-fed birds too fat, this condition being generally responsible for double yolks. Some grain may take the place of one of the twice daily mash feeds.
It may be that only one bird in a batch is laying eggs of this description; it is likely to be the gobbler – the one that gets its head first into the mash trough and always has more than its share. In this case there is no need to alter the diet of the remainder. The greedy feeder should be quartered apart from the other birds and made to subsist on a normal allowance of potatoless mash, or be fed mostly on grain, and made to scratch for the latter in loose soil or thick litter, until its eggs are again normal.
Proof as to whether or not the isolated greedy bird is the offender will be contained in the eggs it lays after segregation.
The Egg-bound Bird.
A bird wanting to lay an egg and unable to expel it will mope around with puffed-out feathers and drooping tail and keep going to the nest box. Because it is frequently found on the nest, with no egg evident, the mistaken impression may be gained that the bird is going broody. But the bird that is really broody will not hop off the nest as will the egg-bound pullet or hen. The real broody will do its best to counter any efforts made to dislodge it.
An egg-bound condition may be due in the first place to over-fatness. The immediate need is to assist the bird to expel its unlaid egg. This may be done by holding the bird low down over a jug or bucket of boiling water so that steam rises to its vent. Another method is to insert a small feather dipped in linseed or salad oil into the vent so that it passes up and around the unlaid egg. The bird should then be left in peace. If the egg is not then expelled the treatment should be repeated.
In these operations very gentle handling is essential, or the unlaid egg may be broken and the death of the bird speedily follow.
A broken egg inside a bird causes severe inflammation, and very prompt measures must be taken to save its life. The first finger should be dipped in linseed or salad oil and inserted very carefully in the vent until the broken egg is felt; it proportion of a half-teaspoonful per dozen birds once a day.
But no attempt should be made to increase weight by overfeeding. If grain is available, more of this should be given than of mash; and if possible, potato peelings should be omitted from the stock-pot of scraps boiled up for adding to the mash. Potatoes and the peelings are definitely fattening, and it is best if these can be used only in moderation.
This treatment may continue until the birds are fully feathered again, have had their rest and are once more laying.
For birds that are late in moulting it is specially necessary to avoid draughts in the roosting house, and damp conditions in the latter as well as in the run.
Early and Late Moulters.
As a general rule the oldest hens, and the indifferent layers, are the first to begin the annual change of feathers. And because age means lessened vitality older hens take longest over the moult and the subsequent rest. This means they may be unprofitable from summer to early spring. In this case the obvious thing to do is get rid of them.
The heavy layers among the younger and more vigorous birds are generally late in starting to moult; they get through it quickly, enjoy a short rest, and are soon busy again in the nest boxes.
Unless the roosting house contains a very mixed batch of birds the owner may anticipate the moult being completed uniformly. The birds may all be shabby together, then newly feathered all at the same time, and egg-laying will begin again round about one date.
Interest in the birds during the moult is apt to lag. There are no eggs to gather, and the beginner’s reaction is natural. But the unwisdom of letting things slide during the period has been stressed in preceding paragraphs.
Other essential attentions at this time include a keen eye to cleanliness of surroundings. Shed feathers must not lie about. Daily they should be gathered up, and if there are sufficient they should be put to excellent use – dug into any vacant piece of ground, to decay and provide manure.
Some small error in feeding or general attention may result in trouble in the egg department; not necessarily in a falling off in numbers, but in other ways. Fortunately these difficulties are not likely to be experienced on a serious scale, but they all need remedying.
Sometimes, as when there is not sufficient nest box accommodation, eggs will be found on the roosting house floor or out in the run. If the floor of the house is a wooden one, or otherwise hard, and not covered thickly with litter, the egg may be cracked, owing to contact with the unyielding base. The same thing may happen in the run. The remedy is to increase nest-box accommodation so that every bird when it wants to lay can do so in the proper place and under the right conditions.
Cracked eggs in the nest box may be due to the same cause. Laying birds scramble for a seat where already more than one egg has been deposited, and chipped shells result. If more nest boxes cannot be provided, egg collection
The extreme remedy is to kill the persistent egg eater and dish it up at table. One other plan is to shield the interior of each nest box from the gaze of a lurking bird, by draping over the entrance hole a piece of sacking pierced so that any laying bird can get through. If eggs are not visible from outside the nest, a lurker may not have the wit to look in. That, however, will not stop it eating its own eggs; the planted rotten egg will.
Undue paleness of yolk may not appear to be worth troubling about, but if a remedy is required the birds’ supply of greenstuff should be increased. Too little of this – cabbage and other vegetable leaves, weeds, lawn mowings – at the midday feed may be the cause.
Soft, or Thin-shelled Eggs.
For some reason these are more often found in the run or beneath perches in the roosting house than in the nest box. If only an occasional soft shell is found, or an egg with a very thin shell, lack of limey material is indicated. The supply of this should at once be increased, as explained in the paragraph headed ‘Egg Eating’.
If several are found, in spite of ample provision of limey material, the trouble may be due to the birds being too fat. The remedy is to leave out of the mash, for eight or nine days, potato and potato peelings and meat scraps and substitute for these an abundance of greenstuff – uncooked, and passed through a mincing machine before being mixed with the mash.
Wrinkled or Misshapen Eggs.
Though these blemishes do not in any way lessen the eating qualities of eggs the trouble points to a bird, or birds, getting too much to eat. If the bird responsible for the wrinkled or misshapen eggs can be discovered it should be given separate quarters and fed lightly on mash from which the fattening substitutes mentioned in the previous paragraph have been omitted. If grain is available, it should be fed on more grain than mash, the grain being buried in litter or raked into soil so that the bird must scratch for it and thus get its fat down. This should be continued until normal eggs are produced.
The bird most likely to be responsible is the one that gulps its own ration at meal times and then helps itself to another’s.
The Poultry Doctor.
Free admittance of sunlight to roosting house and run, dry conditions overhead and underfoot, plenty of exercise, regular and sufficient meals, scrupulous cleanliness of surroundings, and cleanliness of body (made possible by dust baths) all combine to keep the poultry keeper un-worried by complaints. should then be possible to remove it with that finger.
If it cannot be reached with the finger, an injection of salad oil into the vent, repeated at intervals, may effect a clearance.
If the attempt is successful the bird should be kept apart from the others for three days or so, on a mash diet; and if the bowels do not appear to be working properly it should be dosed, about every three hours, until they do, with Epsom-salt. A dose is as much of the salt as will cover a sixpenny piece, dissolved in an eggcupful of warm water. Methods of administering are explained under ‘The Home Doctor’.
If a bird is found persistently lurking in front of a nest box its intentions may be suspected. It may be waiting for a layer to come off the nest; at the end of the wait it will eat the egg and leave never a trace.
Temptation should be removed from any bird that has developed that bad habit, by inspecting nest boxes more frequently so that eggs are not left long in peril. At the same time the offending bird – whether or not its identity is discovered – should be sickened of the taste of eggs by introducing into a nest a thoroughly rotten egg and leaving it there to be consumed.
The seriousness of this trouble is that it may spread, other birds acquiring a taste for egg by joining the first offender in its feast. It sometimes starts through a cracked egg displaying enticing contents; or the curiosity of a bird may be aroused by the sight of a soft-shelled egg which, after an investigatory peck, proves to be easy meat.
Lack of sufficient shell-forming material to cat may also induce a bird to go to an egg as a source of supply. All birds should have access at all times to a box of crushed oyster or cockle shell or fine limestone or mortar rubble; and the powder may be mixed with the mash two or three times a week.
The purchase of disease-free and vermin-free birds is a cardinal factor. But to place these in an unclean roosting house or run is seeking dire trouble. An old poultry house taken over from a previous tenant, or one purchased secondhand, should always be suspected. Before being put into use it should be cleansed and then limewashed; the same procedure should be followed, at reasonable intervals, in the case of any house, no matter how clean it may appear to be. There is then far less likelihood of a list of complaints having to be gone through for a possibly troublesome remedy.
Cleansing and Lime-washing.
If a hose can be brought to bear’ on the interior of the roosting house, including the nest boxes, this should be the first procedure. Perches, droppings boards and any other fitments first removed, the whole of the interior should be forcefully sprayed.
A stiff scrubbing brush should then be used, with hot and strong soapy water plus a cupful of paraffin per bucket. Plenty of this should be squirted, with a syringe, into all cracks, and notches into which perches fit should be painted with neat paraffin. The scrubbing brush completes the good work, not omitting the wired windows. Not a speck of dirt remaining, the woodwork should be allowed to dry. Then comes the limewashing. Birds will need to be temporarily accommodated, in a light shed or elsewhere, of course, whilst these proceedings are afoot.
A suitable limewash can be made by adding just enough water to fresh quicklime (from a builder’s yard) to make it into a paste, then stirring into it a good handful of soft soap or some size (to make it stick to the woodwork) and some whitening to make it really white. More water is then added. A creamy limewash, neither too runny nor too thick, is then ready to be applied with a broad brush, the wash to be well worked into every crack and crevice.
Perches, droppings boards and any other interior fitment, should be scrubbed with hot soapy water into which paraffin has been stirred, before going back; or if in a splintered, ramshackle condition, replaced with new ones.
Normal cleansing should be carried out very frequently, including the removal of dust from ledges and the polishing of windows if openings are glazed. If the openings are wired the wire should be kept clean too. All feeding and drinking utensils should be scalded out as frequently as possible, for trouble lurks therein.
A Clean Run.
The ideal is to change the site of the run at least once a year. To the majority that ideal is unattainable. But droppings, which are a source of infection, can be cleared from the run, and if the floor of the run is loose earth this should be dug over once a week. The surface should be renewed occasionally where there is facility for exchanging the top few inches with fresh soil from allotment or garden.
A new bird, whatever its source, should be looked over well before being allowed to mingle with others. It may be diseased, or verminous; it may be neither. But keeping it apart from the others for a few days may save much later trouble.
The same applies to any bird that is obviously out of sorts. It should be removed at once from the run or house and quartered alone for careful observation. The policy of waiting to see if a bird gets better before the owner does anything is thoroughly unsound.
Isolation quarters can be a coop as described under the heading ‘The Sitting Coop’, with a 1 in. mesh wire bottom, raised up a couple of inches, for the droppings to fall through. The bird can do without a perch for the time being. The coop can stand outdoors, in a sunny spot – shade being provided if necessary – in good weather. In winter it might be better in a well-lighted, well-ventilated shed. Cold, draughts and damp are to be avoided.
The owner should make a point of watching die birds at one meal time at least during each day. Not only can methods of giving food, and quantities, be corrected by that watching, but off-colour birds can be spotted. The golden rule is: when in doubt, isolate immediately. If no coop or suitable large box happens to be available the bird can be placed temporarily in a hamper or shed or outhouse.
On-the-spot advice is worth a very great deal. No hesitation should be felt in asking the opinion of an experienced poultry-keeping neighbour, or of an expert if there is one in the neighbourhood. No harm is done if the trouble proves imaginary. If the isolated bird, on the other hand, proves to be suffering from a contagious disease, possibly tremendous harm will be prevented from spreading.
The Home Doctor.
If a bird has to be doctored single-handed, without an assistant to hold it, the speediest and most convenient plan of securing the wings and preventing wild fluttering is to encase its body in a strip of sacking or cloth about 2 ft. long by 1 ft. wide, with two holes about 3 in. apart cut centrally. The bird’s legs are passed through the holes and the ends of the material drawn together over its back and fastened with a couple of safety pins. The bird can then be placed under one arm, or between the knees of the sitting-down operator, whilst the necessary attention is given.
When medicine is to be given, the bird’s head should be held upwards and backwards, the beak opened wide, and the medicine poured in out of a teaspoon. The beak is then closed, and the head held backward for a few more seconds until the medicine is swallowed. Easier than the spoon method is the use of a small syringe, the hand which holds the bird’s head and beak also steadying the open end of the syringe.
If it is necessary to insert an oiled feather or finger in the bird’s vent, as in dealing with an egg-bound – the bird should be held upside down and pressed to the operator’s left side with the left hand and forearm.
To deal with a bird that refuses to take its food, it should be held under the left arm, its head upwards and neck straight, the beak opened with the left hand and small mash pellets pushed in one by one and forced gently down.
Apoplexy, Sunstroke, Vertigo.
Overfeeding, or exposure to excessive sun heat, may result in one of these three troubles. A bird may suddenly be stricken down and lie unconscious or partly so. Staggering, or running around in circles, are other symptoms. The bird may speedily die; it may be possible to save it if taken in hand in time. The bird should be housed apart, in a dark shed or coop, and kept quiet. Every second day until its behaviour becomes normal it should be dosed with Epsom-salt – half a teaspoonful dissolved in an eggcupful of warm water.
If overfeeding is indicated, rations must be corrected. If sunstroke, the trouble should be regarded as a warning to provide adequate shade for the birds.
Coughing, Difficult Breathing.
These may indicate bronchitis, resulting from damp or cold conditions or draughts. The wrong conditions should be put right and affected birds, isolated, kept warm. Poultry spice should be mixed with the mash, and Parrish’s Chemical Food with the drinking water – a teaspoonful to each pint.
Ordinary colds, due to similar causes, are indicated by sneezing, and watery nostrils and eyes. Same treatment is called for.
Yellow, cheesy growths in the mouth and on the tongue should be swabbed repeatedly with hydrogen peroxide. also ‘ Diphtheria’.
Scabs around the mouth, on the head and under the wings, indicate this disease, which is very infectious. Isolated, the bird should have its sores dressed with carbolated ointment and two hours later washed with soap, tincture of iodine being then painted over the spots. If an expert cannot be called in it might be wiser to kill the bird and burn it.
Excessive diarrhoea tinged with bright yellow or green calls for immediate disinfection of the run with quicklime, and the roosting house should be cleansed and limewashed. This very fatal disease spreads swiftly from bird to bird. The victim may die quickly; otherwise it should be killed and burned.
This disease is most common among chicks two to four weeks old, and it may be spread through water or food or soil contaminated by adult carrier birds. It is indicated by diarrhoea and general loss of condition. Victims seldom respond to any treatment. Run, house and all utensils should be thoroughly cleansed; if possible the site of the run should be changed.
Weakness, diarrhoea and extreme emaciation mark the later stages of this disease. The bird should be killed and burned, and run, house, etc.., thoroughly cleaned.
Birds attacked walk with bunched-up toes. Common among young birds cooped up on damp flooring. Circulation should be improved by allowing more outdoor exercise, on dry soil, with more green food.
This is a condition in which the crop, at the base of the neck, is packed with a hard mass of food. It should be suspected in any bird reluctant to feed. Condition of the crop can be felt with the fingers. The affected bird may be persuaded to expel the food mass if it is held under the operator’s left arm, the left hand holding the head, the patient being made to swallow about pint of warm water tinged pink with a few crystals of permanganate of potash, or a teaspoonful of salad oil. The crop is then massaged with the fingers of the right hand until the contents soften.
The bird’s head is then turned downwards and the crop firmly but gently squeezed. It should be given a short rest between bouts of crop squeezing. With persistence and patience the massed food may be induced up and out. The bird should then be put on a bread and milk or scanty wet mash diet for twenty-four hours.
A mild attack may be brought on by excess of green food, sour mash, or something not good for it that the bird has picked up. A light dose of Epsom-salt may be given, and no green food for a few days.
A more severe attack is marked by blood in the droppings which, as in the former case, smell very offensively. A dose of Epsom-salt should be given, green food withheld, and a little powdered vegetable charcoal added to the mash.
Bacillary white diarrhoea, marked by a white discharge, is highly contagious among chicks, which may die off wholesale. They huddle together with drooping wings and lose weight. There is no treatment. Coops, etc.., should be thoroughly cleansed and disinfected. This disease can be transmitted through die egg; therefore eggs purchased for hatching should come from a thoroughly reliable source guaranteed to be free of bacillary white diarrhoea disease.
Dysentery, and difficulty in swallowing, and greyish yellow growths in the mouth and throat, indicate this serious and highly contagious complaint. Complicated treatment is possible but not promising. The attacked bird should be killed and burned. Other birds should be at once removed from the house and run, these and all utensils to be cleansed with the utmost care before being used again.
Dysentery. Discharges of blood accompany severe diarrhoea of varying colours. Treatment is the same as for severe diarrhoea.
This is not a disease but a habit which may be due to the lack of sufficient exercise or green food; the latter should be suspended 18 in. off the ground – birds will jump for it and thus get additional exercise. It may also be brought on by overcrowding, or by presence of external parasites. Patches bare of feathers should be smeared with carbolized vaseline.
Exposure to piercing wind, or to frost, may cause a bird’s comb to shrivel, or turn dark in colour, or the skin may peel off. The adverse conditions should be remedied and affected combs smeared with vaseline or camphorated oil.
Birds, especially young ones, seen to be continually gaping, are endeavouring to cough up thread-like worms present in the windpipe. Death from suffocation may follow. A small feather dipped in camphorated oil, or turpentine, should be pushed carefully down an affected bird’s throat, twisted and withdrawn. This may remove some of the worms, or it may assist the bird to expel them. The treatment should be repeated until a cure is effected. Cleansing of coop or house and run and all utensils is imperative, to prevent the trouble spreading.
Lameness, Swollen Feet.
An abscess on the sole of the foot or under the toes gives rise to bumble foot. The foot should be soaked in warm water, the abscess opened with a sharp, clean knife and pus squeezed out. The wound should then be dressed with boracic ointment or iodine and bound up with a piece of clean cloth. Treatment to be repeated daily unth all pus is removed, die bird meanwhile being housed in a coop without a perch. the floor bedded with hay or other soft dry litter.
A fowl’s natural method of cleansing itself externally is by taking frequent dust baths. Dry soil or fine grit or sifted fire ashes should be provided for this purpose. It helps to keep in check external parasites of various kinds, though it is not uncommon for even the healthiest birds to have a few of these among the feathers.
When they are present in numbers their effect is shown by the restlessness of birds at night; by day the birds will be continually pecking at their feathers, and their general condition will be poor. This all hinders egg production.
In addition to applying remedies to attacked birds, roosting house and nest boxes should be cleared out, all litter burned and the place cleansed and limewashed and generally dealt with as explained in earlier paragraphs. It should be emphasized that the remedies indicated will not have effect by one application only; they should be continued at seven-day intervals over a period of three to four weeks.
Remedies Against Parasites.
People who have never observed anything objectionable on a live fowl may be familiar enough with an orange-coloured louse found among the feathers during the plucking of a dead fowl. This louse may advertise its presence by crawling up the hands and arms of the plucker, though there is no danger of the parasite persisting on a human being; indeed, it cannot live longer than a few hours apart from fowls. Its food is the birds’ feathers, and it can be annihilated by getting pyrethrum powder, or other insect powder, well down on the skin and the bases of the feathers. Bare patches should be smeared with boracic ointment.
There are other pests with similar irritating activities, their presence being denoted by attacked birds plucking feathers from themselves and from other sufferers. An insect powder and boracic ointment is as effective with them as with the orange-coloured louse.
Ticks are sometimes found at the base of feathers on birds’ heads, the blood-sucking ticks’ heads buried in the birds’ flesh. Car-bolized vaseline, rubbed well into the skin, is the remedy.
A common cause of restlessness at night is a red mite, which leaves its daylight hiding place at perch ends and in other crannies after dark for its feed of blood. Paraffin squirted forcefully into all such cracks and crevices, or dabbed in with a stiff brush, will rid the roosting house of them.
The small pest known as the hen flea lurks, as full-grown insect, grub or egg, in dust and debris in neglected nest boxes. The latter should be kept absolutely clean, a condition in which the hen flea cannot thrive or breed. Pyrethrum powder is fatal to it.
A hard, dry coating of the tongue and lining of the mouth is typical of the trouble known as pip or catarrhal stomatitis. It is possible to remove this hard, dry coating with a needle, the exposed surface then being dressed with glycerine containing a trace of iodine. Also, to each pint of drinking water should be added a tcaspoonful of carbonate of soda and the same of Epsom-salt, until the trouble has been corrected.
This common and very infectious malady can be introduced among healthy birds by a newcomer from a diseased flock, or it may be brought on the hands, boots or clothing of someone who has handled or been among attacked birds. Germs of the disease are present in droppings and in nasal discharge; the latter, evil smelling, is typical of the complaint. Nostrils may become plugged, eyelids swell, comb and wattles turn blue, the bird coughing and sneezing. Also there may be sores in the mouth, making swallowing difficult.
A roup powder should be given daily – the bird in strict isolation – and eyes, head and mouth bathed with a weak solution of permanganate of potash, or hot water and vinegar mixed. The operator’s hands should be disinfected before he handles healthy birds; the run should be dressed with quicklime and the roosting house scrubbed out, disinfected and limewashed, the healthy birds meanwhile being given temporary quarters elsewhere.
Scales on the legs are raised, and encrusted with lime, and the bird may find it difficult to walk. The legs should be smeared with vaseline up to the knee joint, and two days later washed with hot soapy water. The legs should be dried, then smeared with carbolized vaseline. Continue this until the bird’s legs are normal.
This contagious disease, a form of ringworm, appears in the form of white spots on the comb and wattles; these spots increase in size and run together until head and neck are bare of feathers and the skin covered with scales. The comb, etc.., should be smeared with glycerine till soft, then dressed with iodine, or given a daily dressing with an ointment consisting of one part calomel and eight parts vaseline. Treatment must begin early. In a later stage it would be better to kill the bird and burn it. House, run, etc.., must be cleansed completely.
Birds that are perpetually hungry yet well fed, and are obviously out of condition, may be troubled with worms in the intestines. Before affected birds have the first feed of the day they may be given strong garlic water to drink; this will help them get rid of the worms if the treatment is continued daily. Or Epsom-salt may be mixed with the breakfast mash, as much of the salt as will cover a sixpenny piece being allowed per bird. Scrupulous cleanliness must be observed in the house and run, and the droppings should be burned. It would be a great advantage if the birds could be run on a fresh strip of ground whilst the infected run is treated with quicklime.
Maintenance of Health.
Dust baths have been linked in previous paragraphs with other items and conditions necessary for the maintenance of good health.
This section may well end on a stressing of the general utility of a goodly heap, or boxful, of sifted fire ashes, placed in a sunny corner, sheltered from cold winds and rain. If in a box, the depth should be not less than about 4 in., and the surface area should be such that the bird can scratch about freely and wriggle itself well down. In a sunless spot, where wind whistles, they may refuse to go to it; like human beings they prefer comfort.