Punk-Rock Hairdo’s for your Chicken and Rooster

My Homesteading Hero sent me this photo of Rooster Sunny [click here for why someone else is raising my rooster] and said, “See his comb?”. That’s not a good conversation usually. The comb of a chicken is an important health indicator, but agreement on exactly what it indicates is up for debate.

The weather hasn’t been cold enough for frost bite. Peterson, the Plymoth Barred Rock hen, had a spot on her comb, but not the same kind….not on the tips like Sunny. Sunny is a bit unusual to begin with. He has a large lump on his right back, his body is shorter than the hens and he rarely crows. Though he has continued to gain weight and is much bigger than the hens, they still bully him. Peterson was seen pecking at Sunny’s comb earlier that day.

He may have inherited some health problems and the comb can be an indicator of organ failure. It would be sad to lose Sunny, but he may be on borrowed time. My youngest and I drove out to our friend’s farm and picked up Sunny for his new hairdo. We brought something I used growing up on mom and dad’s farm, called Blu-Kote. It’s not for use on animals you eat, but we are never eating this batch of chickens. When I was a kid it came in a cannister with a large dauber inside… a lot like that for cementing PVC plumbing together. This new version is an aerosol spray. That was handy when I had to treat a hen’s foot in the dark while she was asleep in the coop.

While cradling Sunny and trying to keep his eyes covered, we gave his comb a nice purple dye job. He looks like a punk-rocker now. According to several chicken-keepers the black comb problems often go away on their own. We won’t know Sunny’s outcome for quite some time. The local vet doesn’t treat chickens…I’ve already asked when I was going to get his lumpy back treated. And no, that’s not the way you do it on a farm, but these were my children’s first pets….we got them months before getting our dog Louie. And, I figured I had lots to learn anyway. The next group of chickens won’t be ‘pets’.

We treated Peterson for the ugly spot on her comb as well. She wasn’t as calm as Sunny and she shook her head afterward causing the purple medicine/dye to fly. Be warned, if it gets on something, it’s not coming off. Get it on clothing and learn to like the shade. Get it under your nails and you will have to wait for the the nail to grow out. When Peterson shook out her new ‘do’ some Blu-Kote hit My Homestead Hero on the face to which she responded, “I need new friends!”

Looks good in the sun!
Hey there, pretty lady….notice my new hairdo?

Some photos, background and text in this particular story used by permission of My Homesteading Hero.

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How To Keep Your Chickens Warm Without Electricity

It gets really cold up here in zone 5. Valentine’s Day 2020 had a Low of -9 Fahrenheit and a High of 10 Fahrenheit. Children waited for the school bus inside their homes and ran out only when the bus approached. Condensation from your own breath froze on your face. Employees would turn on their cars every few hours to keep the batteries alive. Our Northern friends laugh at how soft we are, but it was a rough day. That was before we had animals.

I’ve read a lot of advice for chicken keeping (best chicken book yet by the way), but wasn’t able to complete my vision for an all-season coop at the farm because of my broken leg. I asked my Homestead Hero for advice, and she recommended surrounding the coop with bales of hay. I got that done two days after Christmas as the forecast was calling for more nights in the teens. A few days later on New Years the ice storm hit. You can see here it was a nice thick coating of ice.

Surprising advice about chickens is that it is more important that they have ventilation than heat. They must have proper ventilation or they develop respiratory problems in warm weather. If you try to make them warm in the winter but there isn’t ventilation at the top of the coop you greatly increase their chances of getting frost-bite on their comb. That is why I made certain that this hay bale remained under the three vent holes in the front of the coop.

This all hit in January, and I’ll need even more for February when we tend to get negative temperatures. Since the coop is just in the back yard I’ve been able to change out the water twice a day to make sure it doesn’t freeze solid, but I’ve been pleased to find that adding hay bales has kept the water from freezing solid unless the temp gets below 17F.

The delicate netting held up well to the ice and was almost jewel-like. The chickens seemed to not be very bothered by the ice…although they rarely walked on it. They mostly developed their own version of ‘fly-skating’ where they flapped their wings to propel them forward to some rock, pile of leaves or crumple of frozen netting where they could stand.

As I was making plans to move the chickens from the summer shelter back to the subdivision I had to prepare for the first freezing nights. A smart solution used a free piece of plastic I got from the side of the road. The thickness was about that of the flimsy sneeze guards you saw everywhere in 2020. I was able to cut it with heavy kitchen scissors to a perfect fit and attach it with only a few screws to the inside of the ‘wire atrium’.

The higher quality plastic creates a nice window into the coop so the hens can still be watched from the house. This not only blocks winter winds, but it also protected the feed and deep litter from fall rains. I plan to leave it up permanently because the chickens will be back at the farm when the weather gets so hot that the plastic would be a problem. There was only the one sheet, so 2-liter bottles and salad lids became the plastic used on the wall away from the house. It kept the entrance to the roosting area dry, but I should have put a solid sheet across the bottom first. That will have to be a priority going into the bitter part of winter. The draft can be hard on the chickens and the windbreak makes a huge difference in how quickly ice forms in the waterer.

The first load of hay was used to try to insulate the walls from the INSIDE. I opened the bail and put “chips” as my dad called them all around the inside of the coop. It would have worked great, but chickens won’t leave anything alone. In 24 hours it was piled across the floor of the coop.

The extra hay that wasn’t placed inside was put on the roof or rested on it’s small end. Three reasons for this ‘half measure’: #1- Chickens need time to acclimate to the season changes. Imagine for yourself how cold 50 degrees feels in the fall and how warm it seems in the early spring. Do what you can within reason to allow the hens to adjust to cold weather especially in the early fall when the cold snaps are just annoying, not deadly. Adding heat lamps or heat sources too early can cause them to delay their ‘winter preps’.

#2- Electricity is fickle! As wonderful as heat lamps or warming platforms can be, the simple fact is that relying on them puts you at the mercy of ice-covered branches and power lines. A power outage could kill your whole flock while you are too snowed-in to get back-up heat sources.

#3- Mice love hiding in hay. Mice are the enemy. Putting this hay down creates the perfect home for mice living in our forest. Waiting until the last minute is one way to discourage the mice. If we get a warm break of 40 degree weather I will move the hay bales to the other side of the chicken yard to make them find a new home. The reason the plastic sheeting is a better windbreak in the fall and spring is because it doesn’t provide housing for mice and sheds moisture faster while still doing the job.

The steep hill makes adding more bales to the back of the coop very hard. The bale will just roll off into the electric fence, or a post will have to be driven through the bales to hold them in place.

In the photo above note that the roof area over the roosts shows snow melt while the roof in the foreground still has a pristine blanket of snow. This photo shows that there is enough warmth in the roosting area to melt snow…a good sign that the hay, deep litter and hens body heat is keeping them warm.

The snow fall was lovely, but very heavy. It stuck to the ice and put a strain on the fence and the hawk netting. Luckily there are a few tears in the netting that allowed me to put my arm in and shake the netting to release some of the snow weight.

The greenhouse frame had begun to bend under the weight downhill from the snow. Shaking just some of the snow off seemed to be sufficient to take that stress off the frame.

Throwing some hay under the snack holder gave the hens a place to stand without sliding back down the hill. Although it is cold outside, they seem warm enough to run around and have fun playing chicken football. If you are expecting bitter cold, visit my article for more extreme preparation titled: How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens With No Electricity? 12 Tips.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Chicken Waterers: Lots of New Choices!

I own several chicken watering methods, but one has completely stolen my affection. I plan to test these other types, but for my situation I’m convinced: these vertical watering nipples are the best. As the temps dip into negative territory I will have to use the old-fashioned watering fonts with a heated base, or a new design with side nipples and a heated base, but this summer we found these watering nipples kept the water always pure without any chance of the chickens getting into it.

This is a very affordable approach to watering because you are only buying the nipple and you are providing a jug that you pull out of your recycling bin. I know some people use buckets, but I prefer the jug. One reason is that you can see from a distance if the hens are out of or low on water. You also can prevent chicken poo from getting inside along with leaves, dirt or even most bugs. This vertical nipple also has the most simple parts that can be taken apart and cleaned if there is an obstruction. There is no spring or fragile part inside to break, though there are small parts that if you drop in the field you probably won’t ever find. The waterer is high enough off the ground that mice can’t use it as a water source and it even denies song birds. It may seem mean to not water the song birds, but they are known to carry diseases that aren’t good for your hens, so dissuade them from hanging out in your chicken coop.

For winter time I was pleasantly surprised to find that the vertical nipples continued to work even after the top of the waterer froze and bubbled out the top. Overnight the top 1/3 of the jug froze solid, but the bottom water was still flowing easily. I tested this watering jug one more day like this. The next day the entire waterer was frozen solid, but the hens were still able to get drinks of water as little amounts of ice melted through the day in the sun. Luckily I had made a second waterer over the summer and I just traded out the frozen solid one with a fresh jug each day.

Vinegar comes in thick plastic jugs that hold up to a lot of use and we have several. I mostly use the Heinz white vinegar jugs that hold 1.3 gallons, but removing the label is an hour-long event if you don’t loose your patience first. If you have an IGA near you, their vinegar jug labels wash off easily, the lid is white, stays attached and they are a standard 1 gallon. Make sure to poke a hole in the top of the lid because the nipples won’t work with a vacuum. I use pliers and a hot nail. You can leave the lid off, but you may find dead bugs floating in it.

If you want to get really fancy you can hook it up to plumbing by creating a PVC pipe of waterers. I’m not that fancy, instead I use a large ‘S’ hook so I can attach the jug to any chain at any height I want. You can get a standard rust resistant hardware ‘S’ hook like mine here, or you can get a snazzier one like they use for pot racks here.

You’ll simply drill two or three 3/8″ holes in the bottom of the jug and screw in the nipples being careful not to over-tighten. The rubber gasket shouldn’t squeeze out the edges. From experience I suggest you test on a jug you haven’t spent an hour getting the label off of (just a word to the wise). You’ll find you have less dripping if you are screwing into a relatively flat area of the jug bottom. While you are at it make 2 so you can go away for a 2-day trip without worrying about your hens.

Even baby chicks quickly figure out how to use these nipples. They are drawn to the noise and peck it out of curiosity at first. We even were able to boost their immune systems when they were young by adding a little Apple Cider Vinegar to one little waterer made from a soda bottle. Some of the chicks sat there and hit the vinegar over and over again, shaking their head after each drink. They must have needed it!

There are two other types I am holding onto and planning to test out over the summer. These Poultry Watering Cups may prove to be a better option in the hot days of summer so they can drink deeply. I would like to test out some ideas of using rainwater catchment off the coop roof and making that available to my chickens so there is a back-up source of water. In that situation the waterer must feed from the side because there is always settlement in rain water and that would clog up vertical waterers attached to the underside of a container.

Another way I may use these horizontal waterers is when I get new baby chicks and have them with a mama hen. I may install vertical nipples on the bottom of the jug and hang it low enough for babies, while putting a horizontal cup at the side so mama hen can use the same one.

I’m also planning to test these designs I find interesting. The only problem I see with this horizontal design is that it relies on a spring inside. The vertical nipple uses gravity and a steel ball. Vertical has no spring and despite a rubber gasket, looks like it might last a decade. You also can’t take apart this horizontal version, so cleaning it out may not be an option. However, instead of a large cup that could catch lots of chicken ‘stuff’ this small little perch under the nipple might work better.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.