Your advice, please

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Ailla
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Your advice, please

Post by Ailla » Tue Nov 15, 2016 4:28 pm

Hello! It's all very quiet in my house of four chickens, purchased in February. They did not enjoy the hot summer weather over here, nor the interruption to their routine by the constant stream of family we had staying, which took away my attention. I thought it would all improve once schools returned in September. However, the chickens did not resume laying their 2-4 eggs per day routine and I struggle to get 2-3 per week now.

They seem healthy, no breathing problems, clear bright eyes always and they seem perky and interested. Their droppings have been browner, a bit wet and with a slightly acidic smell very occasionally, but not at the moment. We lost our cat on August 8th in a road accident. He used to sit in the run with them and they were just getting used to him being around, having been agitated by his interest initially. In September we adopted some new kittens who began visiting them in the run in October. Much smaller than Freddie, the kittens haven't really seemed to bother the chickens. They all have a dig. The chickens ignore them unless the kittens pick a fight with each other in the run! The chickens dislike this and will let me know!

I have found what looks like white casts in the droppings, but presume this to be the husks of the seed mix that we buy over here - there is no pellet feed available where we live. Other than the 'Melange de Poule Pondeuse' they have my veg peelings plus red cabbage (favourite or what!) and half an apple (no pips) and half a round courgette if I can get them. They like julienne strips of carrot to run away with. I've tried lots of different fruit and veg but the red cabbage is tops so they get it every day.

They have a large run covered by a very large oak and some smaller trees. They have a coop within our barn with nesting boxes which they ignored from day one other than to sleep atop it's sloping roof every night (weird!). They also ignore the roosting perches our predecessors built. In March I transported a rabbit hutch in there ready for this winter (giving them plenty of time to get used to it being there) to give them a bit more protection and they now choose to lay in there usually. Unfortunately the barn roof leaks in places and we can't afford to have this repaired at present. Buckets catch most of the water.

Eggs, when I get them, are around 60g and well-formed. They have a single yolk and a good textured albumen without spots.

Ok - do you have any suggestions a) about the reasons and cure for being off-lay and b) introducing more variety in their diet? [Actually I gave them some pear parings today and they loved them]. Do you have to keep ringing the changes, because they were really keen on apple and courgette at first but don't seem nearly so keen now. The only thing they still love is the red cabbage - one of them hops on my arm to get there first! I've just sown some 'mache' seeds which I can probably grow on in the greenhouse through winter here. It looks a bit like spinach/watercress so I'll let you know how that goes.

Well, thank you in advance, sorry for the long tale!

Ailla
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chrismahon
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Re: Your advice, please

Post by chrismahon » Tue Nov 15, 2016 5:09 pm

Hi Ailla. Presume you are in France in the South somewhere, which wasn't as hot as last year. Am I correct and if so whereabouts?

Avoid raw potato peelings as they are poisonous. Severely limit fruit peelings because the natural sugars and yeast promote sour crop- I know they like them.

They won't be laying much now anyway because the daylight hours are so short and it is getting colder. At the moment we have 24 hens and no eggs!

You may find that their diet doesn't contain enough protein. This needs to be around 17% for best laying. You can achieve this by mixing 2 parts wheat with 1 part sunflower seeds, although that doesn't give a balanced diet. They need access to greens.

The bits in the droppings, if they are white, could be tapeworm segments. However that's very rare. Google it and compare.
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rick
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Re: Your advice, please

Post by rick » Tue Nov 15, 2016 5:37 pm

Hi AIlla. Glad to hear its going well (and it sounds like it is.)
I like the tale of them ignoring the nesting boxes provided in favour of a rabbit hutch. I can imagine mine liking the hutch but presumably the rabbits will be taking residence soon. Hope the protests don’t make you have to buy another!
Our neighbours cat sits on the back wall and watches the goings on in the run like its a television.
They do tend to get bored with with things they 'kind of like' if they appear too often but, as you say, cabbage never seems to go out of fashion. Impressed that they go for carrots - mine will eat everything and leave the carrots, cooked or raw, every time.
Ailla
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Re: Your advice, please

Post by Ailla » Thu Nov 17, 2016 5:08 pm

Thanks for your replies! Yes, we’re 60 miles south of Bordeaux, moved one year ago having caravanned(?) a bit further south for 25 years with the family and then just us two. We’ve learned lots, laughed lots and love the wine! I’m afraid I force my husband to eat the potato skins for any vitamin c left after cooking and for the fibre! (Anyway, life’s too short to mash spuds). I treat the cats for tapeworm and these look more like sheaths – their ‘melange’ consists of the following: triticale, barley, wheat, crushed maize, dari roux, split green peas, white dari, oats, crushed oyster shell, linseed, buckwheat. Not sure if the ingredients are in percentage/weight order, but it all seems good stuff? They get through about 800g per day between the four of them. I guess I need to go back to my supplier and ask what the percentage is of each, then find at the protein content of each ingredient?
The rabbit hutch was also left by previous owners. They’re reared for the pot over here but we’re not into eating bunnies, so the hutch now has a much better use.
My girls won’t eat carrots if sliced or in sticks - it has to be julienne strips (I KNOW! but we’re retired, so I can indulge!!) And finally, I had 2 eggs today!! :lol:
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rick
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Re: Your advice, please

Post by rick » Thu Nov 17, 2016 5:33 pm

Ailla wrote: ...it has to be julienne strips...
Priceless!

I had a play around with working out the nutrition from various grains etc. Not sure if I can attach a speadsheet but will give it a go in this post. A lot of it was roughly informed guesswork and incomplete.

No. I don't think I can upload a spreadsheet - probably lucky escape for everyone :)

What I did learn is that formulating a feed from natural ingredients with the same performance of good quality layers pellets is very difficult. Old school free range chickens on grain mash only must supplement a lot from the environment.
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chrismahon
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Re: Your advice, please

Post by chrismahon » Fri Nov 18, 2016 7:43 am

You are not that far from us then Allia. Takes me two and a half hours to get to Bordeaux, which is North of us.

I'm surprised you can't get Sanders Poule Pondeuse granules (pellets) in 25Kg bags. Mind you, whilst it was stocked in Dordogne, we have to order it here, although we do now get it at a heavily discounted price. Perhaps if you add sunflowers to the grain mix you have you will get the protein up to the required level. Over here chickens generally run free and are scatter fed with grain morning and evening. As Rick said, protein comes from the insects they find when scratching around- of course the foxes take a lot. The insects are seasonal though, so in Winter there isn't much about and here in Summer everything dries up and so the insects disappear.
Ailla
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Re: Your advice, please

Post by Ailla » Sun Nov 27, 2016 3:01 pm

Thanks both!
I've just posted another query about stuff I saw on an American website - your comments would be valued. I'd googled feather loss and the Happy Chicken site came up. My Sussex girl has lost a lot of neck- and all her tail-feathers over the last four days. I can't really tell if it's a normal moult as there's only one of them who allows me to touch her (that's my beautiful Ailla!). I thought Irene's skin looked a bit pink last night so I gave her a spray with a small antiseptic aerosol that the Pharmacist said I could use on the cats after removing tiques. It does look a little better today. Could the 'casts' have been bits of quill do you think? I should take my glasses down with me in the mornings really and inspect properly! Only my golden girl Gloria is still laying, the others have given up completely. And my grey Big Bertha is moulting now as well.

I was reading the post about pecking order as I'd wondered if Irene was losing her touch as leader and was now being picked on by the rest (judging by the number of her feathers in there in the morning). I feel reassured by your reply Chris. Do they eat the feathers for extra protein - I presume they're made up of keratin as in human hair?

We're located 20 minutes from the A63 between Moustey and Hostens in the National Forest. Utterly beautiful and the best thing to do in retirement, even though we left family back in the UK. You must be somewhere even warmer!
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rick
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Re: Your advice, please

Post by rick » Sun Nov 27, 2016 5:51 pm

Feathers do provide protein but also bung up their crops if they eat too many or the feathers are too large. I have one feather eater (my blacktail) who is very keen. The others don’t really bother. When they are moulting its practically impossible to stop them eating some if it takes their fancy but you should try to pick up as many as you reasonably can.

They really hate being handled when they have pin feathers coming through and the new feathers are easily damaged so best only pick them up with care if really necessary.

You just have to console yourself with knowing that though they currently look like they’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, their new coats look fantastic! :)

I've never seen my chickens pulling feathers out of each other - I think Irene's feathers will be falling out of their own accord, pushed out by the new ones which will look like knitting needle ends in their feather sheaths. Its at this time then they may need a little protein boost (mealworms are good in moderation.) After that, when the new feathers have grown, they may be off lay and so will actually need less protein as they wont need it for daily egg production though your young flock may get straight back to laying again.

If a pin feather gets broken then it will bleed and that is when others will peck at it, causing a bigger injury, more pecking etc. That's a serous situation and you would have to separate the hen from the flock until its healed.

P.P.S. If they are getting too much protein then you should notice an increase in smelly cecal droppings - that's how they get rid of the surplus which would otherwise be damaging.

Sorry - I keep finding more stuff to say! Antiseptic - be careful that any you use doesn’t contain a local anaesthetic. Birds can have a very bad reaction to anaesthetics. i.e. over here plain Savalon is safe for chickens, Germoline isn’t. They sometimes have some redness - one of mine had a bare red underside for months until she moulted. Tried all sorts of creams etc and nothing made any real difference. The best was a very thin layer of nappy rash cream but it wasn’t a cure and the redness just disappeared as soon as she started to grow new feathers.
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chrismahon
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Re: Your advice, please

Post by chrismahon » Tue Nov 29, 2016 8:39 am

Perhaps 3C warmer Ailla, which is good in Winter but bad in Summer. Rainfall is infrequent but heavy when it arrives. We had a drought here this year and many crops failed because the reservoirs were pumped dry. By co-incidence we are going to Mont-de Marsan tomorrow, probably the only time we go because we are moving 20Km South next year. After 5 years in France we will be living in our house and not renting someone else's. Must be nice living so close to the Coast. We will be just 45 minutes from the mountains, but still far enough North not to catch their terrible weather.

Hopefully they will finish moulting quickly. We give some of ours an extra protein boost of sunflower hearts if they seem to be struggling, but we have some old hens that need some help.
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