Friday, September 2, 2016

Is Diatomaceous Earth Safe to use for Chickens?

In recent years more and more people are looking for natural solutions to pests.  Diatomaceous Earth has been used to control garden pests, such as slugs, and has been recommended as a way to control fleas on cats and dogs.  The question is "Is it safe to use Diatomaceous Earth on chickens?"

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous Earth, also known as DE, is actually a soft rock; the fossils of ancient lake algae, known as diatoms.  It can feel mildly abrasive and at the microscopic level it is very abrasive.  It works at controlling small pests, such as slugs, mites, and fleas, by being abrasive and cutting them.  Diatomaceous earth is considered natural and can be used in organic farming.  It may also be sold as Red Lake Earth.

Using Diatomaceous Earth With Chickens

There are two possible ways of using DE with chickens (and other birds).  One is internal, the other being external.  Some people add it to the feed in their birds, with the idea being that it can control internal parasites.  Other people use it as a dust bath, or sprinkle it in the nesting area; the idea being that the diatomaceous earth will control external pests.

When mixed with feed, no more than 2% of the entire feed should be DE.  As chickens are likely to ingest what ever is in their environment, even if used only externally the diatomaceous earth should always be labeled as "food grade".

A rather lengthy study was done on laying breeds of chickens, you can read it here, but the results basically showed that hens that had diatomaceous earth added to their feed did not show any difference in resistance to internal parasites.  Therefore using it as a feed supplement to control parasites proved to be a waste.  

However, the study did show a reduction in skin mites when the DE was used as a dust bath, or when applied and rubbed onto the birds themselves.  When sprinkled around the coop it does help control odors and moisture to some extent.

It should be noted that studies on mice have indicated that long term exposure to breathing in DE can cause some lung cancers, and as such using DE in the nesting area on a regular basis may not be advised.   As such use in the coops should only be when certain insects (mites or other crawling insects) are an actual problem.

Friday, August 26, 2016

How to Breed Frizzle and Sizzle Chickens

Frizzle chickens are becoming very popular, but please note that "Frizzles" are not a breed of chicken.  Frizzle refers to the type of feathers.  Frizzled feathers can appear on any breed of chicken.  In a frizzled chicken the feathers are loose and curve upwards or forwards.  As such birds with this type of feathering require special protection in the winter where it is cold as they are not at all cold hardy.  Additionally they don’t cope well with rain, but they sure look interesting.

A sizzle is the term given to a bird with frizzled feathers when the bird is also a silkie chicken.  Other breeds such as Cochins, and Polish chickens, are often bred for frizzling, but sizzle is a term reserved specifically for frizzled silkie birds.

My silkie rooster and sizzle hen. ©BNelson

The frizzle feather gene is dominant, however the presence of two frizzle genes can create birds with feathers that are so “frizzled” they break easily, potentially leaving the bird with many bald patches.  This is known as being “double-frizzled” and most breeders try to avoid it by breeding a frizzled bird to a smooth (regular feathered) bird.  The frizzle gene is dominant; any bird with even one gene will be frizzled. 

Breeding a double-frizzled (has two dominant frizzle genes) bird to a smooth feathered one (no frizzle genes) will always produce frizzled chicks.  The chicks will have one dominant gene for frizzled feathers and one recessive gene for smooth/regular/non-frizzled feathers. 

When breeding a frizzle feathered bird (one with one frizzle gene and one regular/non-frizzle gene) to a smooth feathered bird the results are that half of the chicks inherit the dominant frizzle gene and will be frizzled and half the chicks will only inherit the non-frizzle gene and will be smooth feathered.  This tends to be the cross many breeders prefer. 

When breeding two frizzled birds together where both have one frizzle gene and one regular/non-frizzle gene 3/4 of the birds will be frizzled, but 1/4 will be double frizzled which may be undesirable (as mentioned), and 1/4 will be smooth feathered (regular/non-frizzle).

Silkie chickens, frizzled chickens, and sizzles, are typically kept as ornamental pet chickens.  They are often taken to shows and can command high prices at sales.  They can be any color as per the breed of chicken.  Egg color is also related to the breed of chicken used and has nothing to do with being frizzled.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

On August 1 our bantam silkie hen hatched 9 eggs sometime in the afternoon.  She remained sitting on the chicks all that day and the next.  I thought it was a bit odd that she had not moved on day two.  On the 3rd I checked under in an attempt to see how many chicks she had and noted two unhatched eggs.  She refused to move.  On August 4th, one of the other two eggs hatched.

The rooster with a different chick.

For those of you not familiar with chickens it should be noted that a hen will normally lay an egg every day (roughly) for a period of time and then she will start to sit on all her eggs and stop laying any more.  After 21 days the eggs hatch, often within a few hours of each other, regardless of when they were laid.  Usually all eggs that are going to hatch will hatch at that time and any remaining are duds, and can be discarded. 

By the time the last chick hatched the hen decided to leave the nest but that chick was unable to keep up and was on the ground when I found it.  I picked it up and put it with the others, but later that day when I went out to check them the chick was where I put it, but the hen and her other chicks had already moved off...

I figured I should bring the little one inside and set it up in an empty guinea pig cage.  I gave it a light for heat.

I noted the chick had splayed legs (not too bad in that it could stand but they really made it hard for the little one to walk).  I learned that spayed legs were somewhat common in late hatching chicks.  There are two methods of fixing splayed legs in chicks.  One is to keep it in a small cup and take it out often to give it food and water; the other is to put an elastic band around the feet, with a cut portion of a straw in between.  I did the second method and should have taken a photo of that.  I kept this on for two days (but removed it in the night).
The chick sitting down because it could not stand well.

The little chick is now 1 week old and doing well.  We call it a "him" but really do not know for sure.  We take him outside for periods of time but he still is kept in the cage indoors as we have gotten close to him and he will be more friendly than the outside chicks as the hen and rooster are very protective of them so they think people are bad!

Two days old.
About Silkie Chickens

Silkie chickens are often kept as ornamental pets.  They are unusual in that they have black/blue skin and meat.  They also have an extra toe.

Silkies come in bantam and standard sizes.

We keep ours as pets, they are just fun to have around and are super cute. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

One Very Gross Cheese

Until recently I had always thought that Blue Cheese was the most disgusting type of cheese.  Blue cheese contains mold. Blue cheese is very popular, this other type of disgusting cheese is less so.

Casu Marzu, a sheep's milk cheese from Sardinia and area, is most noted for containing maggots.  The maggots are the larvae of a cheese fly and are intentionally introduced to the cheese itself.  They help break down the fat components in the cheese causing it to be very soft and in some cases it even oozes a liquid.

The maggots are just under a centimeter in length but have the habit of flinging themselves out of the cheese when disturbed. They can actually fling themselves 15 cm in distance (almost a hand's length).  When served on bread the consumer may cover their food with their hand to stop the maggots from flinging themselves into the diner's eyes.
Photo by Shardan, via Wikimedia Commons

Other times, when diners are not so fond of eating the live maggots, the cheese is placed in a bag and the maggots tend to fling themselves out of the cheese as they use up the air in the bag.  Similarly it can be placed in the fridge to kill the maggots and consumed afterwards.

Casu Marzu cheese is said to have a strong taste, soft texture, and lingering aftertaste.  It is often served with a red wine.

It is often said to be dangerous due to the risk of maggots potentially surviving being eaten and causing health problems in the person who consumed the cheese.  For this reason it is considered illegal (laws regarding this are back and forth).  Nonetheless it is popular for special occasions. 

A few other cheeses throughout Italy and France are also made and/or served with the intentional use of maggots, cheese mites, or other arthropods.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

What You Did Not Know About Black Beauty

Most horse lovers know the story about Black Beauty.  The story is about a horse who changed owners many times, some cruel, some kind, and eventually finds his way back to his original owner where he has a good life for his final days.

There is a lot more about the story that people do not know, there is a story behind the story.

Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty over the years 1871 and 1877, it was the only book she ever wrote, and she died shortly after it was published.

As a young girl Anna had a fall on her way to school, injuring her ankles.  She was not treated correctly and left permanently crippled as a result.  She frequently traveled about in a horse drawn carriage which started her love for horses and also allowed her to see the cruel ways many of the carriage horses were treated on the streets of England.

One of the first improvements to animal welfare credited to the story of Black Beauty was an improvement to the horse drawn taxi licensing and fare system worked as previously the license fees were so high it forced taxi owners to work their horses long hours, and many days.  Another change was in doing away with the over use of the “bearing rein” or overcheck, as it is now known as, which at that time was often so over used that it made breathing difficult for the horses.

cover of Black Beauty book
Black Beauty was written differently than most books of the time; the tale was narrated by its main character, who happened to be a horse. His breed is never mentioned, but is often assumed to be Thoroughbred.

Black Beauty was born on a quaint farm but his life takes on many turns as he passes through hands of both good owners, and bad.  Along the way Beauty also meets many horse friends, including Ginger, a horse who has had a bad life.

Interestingly enough Black Beauty was not written as a children’s book.  While it was written with the intent to showcase cruelty to animals it was also Anna's desire to showcase cruelty of people towards other people, as Anna herself had been teased following her own injury.  Black Beauty was originally written as a book for adults.

Some of the issues of cruelty to horses mentioned in the book were, as mentioned, over use by taxi drivers, the bearing rein, tail docking, steeplechases, hiring horses out to people who did not know how to handle them, dangers of putting away a hot and sweaty horse, running horses on cobblestone (hard streets), and so forth.

Black Beauty, the book, also inspired other books to encourage awareness of animal cruelty issues, such as Beautiful Joe, about a dog.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Basic Guide for Hunters in North America

This is a basic guide on some of the animals that a hunter may encounter in Canada or the United States which should not be shot.  This article is meant primarily for awareness and is mostly directed at hunters who come out from the city and are less familiar with common livestock and farm animals.

These are cows and calves

Cattle are large, they have a fairly rectangular look to them, they are much larger than deer, and are not quite as tall as moose.  Cattle tend to gather in herds.  Cattle come in different colors, brown, black, white, and all sorts of combinations of color.

Full sized horse and miniature horse

Horses are large, but ponies are smaller.  They have a slightly rounder shape than cattle do.  They are often in herds but not always as some people might just keep a single horse. Horses come in many colors.  Horses tend to me less afraid of people than cattle are, but they might run from strangers. 

Similar looking animals include mules and donkeys.

This is a hair sheep

Sheep and goats are small.  They sometimes have horns.  They can be many colors and are nearly always in herds or flocks.  Most sheep distrust people and will run if approached but goats can be friendlier in some cases.

Click here to read about the most popular breeds of sheep in the USA.

2 Llamas and an alpaca
Llamas and alpacas have smaller bodies, long legs, and a long neck.  Farmers sometimes keep them to guard sheep or goats.  They come in many colors and could easily be mistaken for a deer when grazing, but they tend to have thicker coats.

Recently just north of me a hunter shot and killed a child's pony.  Every year there are stories about hunters shooting cattle by mistake, or other farm animals.  There is really no need for this.  If you cannot see an animal clearly enough to identify it, you should not be shooting in the first place.

Also note that in most areas if you are hunting on farm land you must have the farmer's permission.  You cannot hunt from the road, nor close to a road, and you cannot hunt after dark.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Best Places to Sell Sheep

I have only had sheep for just over 10 years and learned a lot about buying and selling them in that time.

When we bought our first sheep we found them for sale in an advertisement in the local newspaper, and as such that was our first thought when it came to selling them.

Selling sheep via advertisements in the newspaper is not something I would recommend, and we stopped doing it after a couple of tries.  This might work in some areas, but even though the newspaper went to all rural homes in the area, it did not really pan out for us with great results, and there is always a fee involved and no sale guaranteed.

We soon found auctions for buying and selling livestock.  I am in Alberta, and there are several auctions where a person can buy or sell sheep.  The odd and unusual auctions are twice a year in my area and are closer to me than the bigger livestock action in which sheep are sold by weight.  At the odd and unusual livestock auctions all sorts of livestock are sold, everything from chickens to bison.  The animals are sold individually, by the animal itself, not by weight.  As such you never know what the prices will be like and I have (regrettably) had good, young, sheep sell for under $100.

Sheep at the Innisfail auction

What has proven to be good is selling online.  At first I used a Canadian site, and had sold several sheep this way.  The main problems I encountered with kijiji was that it took ages to get a sale.  You would post the ad then it might be a week before a seller would contact you.  They often would try to talk me down in price even though I set my prices low (typically below market value as I wanted fast sales on the ram lambs as I had no where to separate them from their mothers).  Most of the buyers I found on kijiji were people looking for meat sheep.

Selling at auction means you know your sheep will be sold that day, but you do not know the price, and you have to pay commission.  Selling online means you can set your price but have no idea when your sheep will sell.

Then my daughter encouraged me to try selling the sheep via Facebook groups.  Wow, we had some bottle baby lambs one winter and within minutes of her posting them for sale on Facebook we had interested buyers.  As with selling on kijiji, buyers sometimes asked for a lower price, but not always.  I found more of the buyers on Facebook were hobby farmers, like myself, who just wanted a few sheep for pets, 4H, or lawn control.

Overall if you have some sheep to sell I would suggest listing them online first, with plans on taking them to an auction later if you are unable to sell them online and need them gone by a certain date.  I would rather sell online for a lower price than have to drive to an auction (consider your time, gas, commission, and so forth) and not know what price I might get.

Other Reading
The Innisfail Odd and Unusual Auctions