News, information, tips and ideas for those who keep small flocks of chickens.

Editor's Notes

First off, thank you to all who visited our exhibit at the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, CA a few weeks ago.  It was a pleasure meeting you and sharing information about the BriteTap waterer.  The show kept us pretty busy, but now that we've come up for air, we realize that the season has changed. Our summer vegetable are all gone and the Fall and Winter crop needs to be transplanted.

In the coop, a number of our girls have begun to molt which means that egg production will also begin to dip. Perhaps some of your chickens are also molting now.  For those interested in estimating the future egg production of your flock, check out the special article in this issue entitled "Free Calculator for Chicken Keepers."  Calculator #3 will estimate the amount of eggs you'll get next year and five years from now if you aren't planning to do any culling.  

Photo Two Chickens

Clean Water & 6 Tips for Providing It

Chickens need three basic requirements to remain healthy - adequate shelter, nutritious food and clean water.  Most chicken owners instinctively understand the importance of the first two and take care to provide a good coop and quality feed.  However, clean water can sometimes be overlooked; this is unfortunate because water plays an important role in both a chicken’s health and in their ability to lay eggs.

Why Water Matters
Chickens are particular dependent on water because of the types of foods they consume and their digestive processes.  Poultry foods such as crumbles, pellets and scratch contain relatively little moisture as compared to those foods consumed by humans.  To properly digest this food, a chicken needs water to soften first soften their food and then to help them break it down into usable nutrients that can be absorbed in the chicken’s digestive tract.
In addition, water plays a critical role in regulating a chicken’s body temperature.  Unlike humans who sweat when hot, chickens lower their body temperature by panting.  The process works by driving off body heat in the form of water vapor.  When panting, the chicken inhales cool air into its respiratory system. Heat that would otherwise be making the chicken’s body warm is instead used to convert water into water vapor that the chicken then exhales in its breath.  This drives off excess body heat and helps keep the chicken cool.  During the summer, it is particularly important to provide ample water so that chicken’s can properly regulate their temperature in this way.  If chickens don’t get enough water they can become stressed and stop laying eggs. Under more extreme conditions, chickens can get heat stroke and die.
Finally, and most importantly to backyard poultry keepers, hens need plentiful water to lay eggs.  Water constitutes 74% of the weight of an egg. That means that a chicken laying a 2-ounce egg needs 1.5 ounces of water just for that one egg.

Total Chicken Water Requirements
Given a hens and unique digestive and respiratory requirement and that they lay eggs that are mostly water, it should come as no surprise that chickens need lots of water to remain healthy and laying.  In fact, chickens needs to consume two to three more water as a humans on a relative basis.
The general guideline is that a laying hen should be given 8 ounces (.5 pounds) of water per day.  That represents approximately 8% of body-weight for a typical 6.5-pound bird.  For perspective, humans are advised to drink between two and three quarts of water every day (4-6 pounds), or just 4% of a typical adult’s body weight.
Tips For Providing Water
  1. Change the water every day.
  2. If using well water, test the water quality to make sure that it meets the standard for acceptable drinking water for humans.
  3. Provide the sufficient quantity –your chickens will drink more or less depending on their age and the outside temperature.  However, the rule of thumb is 8 ounces of water per day per bird, or about 1 gallon for every 8 birds in your flock.
  4. Make sure that your watering device is free from dirt, debris and droppings as these can discourage your birds from drinking, or even make them sick.
  5. During the summer, provide cool tap water or add some ice cubes to lower the temperature.  Research indicates that chickens given water that is below their body temperature produce greater quantities of eggs.
  6. Clean and sanitize your watering device regularly to prevent bacteria from building up in the waterer. 

Photo Two Chickens

Free Calculator for Chicken Keepers

Whether your starting for the first time, or planning changes to the size of your flock, it useful to know how much, space, feed and water you'll need to support your flock and how many eggs you can expect to collect. To make this easier for everyone, we've created three calculators for anyone to use. 

Calculator #1 - The Basics - Enter the number of birds in your flock and the calculator tells you the minimum coop and roosting space you'll need, food and water requirements etc.
Calculator #2 - Impact of Temperature on Food & Water Needs - Enter the number of birds in your flock and the calculator shows you how much food and water will be required under various temperature conditions.
Calculator #3 - Egg Laying Estimate - Enter the age and breed of birds in your flock and the calculator tells you how many eggs you can expect to collect this year, next year and five years from now.

The calculator can be found at the web site. Check it out.
Free Range Chickens

"Free Range" is Not All It's Cracked Up To Be

Many consumers buy eggs in the grocery store that are labeled as "Free Range" believing that the eggs are from birds that are more humanely raised than those on "factory farms."  The term "free range" conjures up idyllic images of chickens raised in open green fields.  However, the truth is very far from this.

According to the USDA definition, free range chickens are ones that "have access to the outside." There is no requirement that the birds have access to pasture or what number of birds can be kept in a given amount of space. What "free range" often means in practice is that hundreds or thousands of birds are kept in a crowded coop with a small door leading to a concrete yard.  Many of these so called "free range" birds may never actually see the outside in their lifetimes.

The reality of "free range" is a reminder why we can take pride in our decision to become backyard chicken owners.  We can provide birds with a better life in return for the joy and eggs they give to us.

BriteTap Waterer Good for Ducks Too

This week we had an opportunity to display the BriteTap chicken waterer at the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa California.  A number of visitors to our booth asked about whether ducks could be trained to use the BriteTap waterer.

Frankly, we weren't sure, so we did a little research and found that commercial poultry companies do use valves (often called poultry nipples) such as the ones found on the bottom of the BriteTap waterer to provide drinking water to their birds. However, research done at the University of Oxford in 2009 indicates that periodic access to water is beneficial because it allows ducks to keep their feathers, eyes, and nostrils clean.

The research study compared the health of ducks whose source of waterer was a trough, a shower, a bath (pond), poultry nipples only, and poultry nipples followed by a bath (pond access) after 5 weeks. The results of the study as published on are shown below. 

The results suggest that if you are going to use a system like the BriteTap waterer for your ducks, you will need to provide periodic access to either a shower or trough so they can wash off their feathers and clean their eyes etc.  The advantage of using a valve-based system like the BriteTap waterer in conjunction with periodic access to shower or other water source, is that this watering routine lowers the health risks associated with open water sources like a pond which can harbor Campylobacterbacteria.

Free Range Chicken Gardens: An Interview with Jessi Bloom

Earlier this year, I attended the 2012 San Francisco Garden and Flower Show. While at the show, I had the opportunity to interview Jessi Bloom about her new book, Free Range Chicken Gardens, How to Create A Beautiful Chicken-Friendly YardJessi is a talented garden designer whose work emphasizes ecological systems, sustainability and self-sufficiency. Recognition of her work includes awards from the American Horticultural Society, Washington State Department of Ecology and Sunset Magazine.  Read the interview...

First Egg Cartons Likely Date to 1929

Nowadays, it's so common to see eggs sold in cardboard cartons that its easy to believe that they were always sold that way.  The photo on the left show an article written in May 1929 that depicts what we assume to be one of the earliest attempts to sell eggs to consumers in packages.  Note that the cartons are not the ones we are familiar with today. Rather, they are wrappers designed to protect individual eggs that are then placed in boxes that look like wine boxes.
We don't know if these cartons ever really made it to market.  Just a few months after the article was written, the stock market crashed and the U.S. was thrown into the Great Depression.  That might have put a bit of a damper on things. 

Thanks to Modern Mechanix for posting the article.

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