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Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by Organic Acres, Sep 10, 2013.
I think the OP is going free-range route and raptors can't be targeted there either.
Thanks for all the replies! I now seem to have a much bigger problem with disease than I do with predators.
I can't get a dog, because I'm there only on the weekends. I do have tree cover, and they get locked up securly at night.
I tried getting more roosters, but my existing one wouldn't have it. he killed the new rooster as soon as it got big enough to show that it was a rooster.
I have plenty of tree cover as well, plus I run heritage breeds that are pretty good at avoiding hawks and such.
I have accepted the loss rate that I have from predation, and will selectively breed from the hens that are best at avoiding danger.
the bigger problem now is that i have a 26% mortality rate from illness. I lost 6 out of 22 hens this year. they just started acting weak and not being interested in food, but didn't have any other symptoms, and then just dropped dead.
post mortum examination on teh first one showed no internal sign of illness.
I started a different thread abotu this today, called "what is a normal mortality rate". I doubt that 26% loss in one year is normal, though.
How did sick birds look?
in several of the cases, their wings started to droop, and they started to be less active and stopped eating, and were acting confused, as if they were lost. then they just died.
in one case, the chicken walked around for two days holding her head sideways like she was trying to look at the ground with one eye, moaned like she was in pain constantly,and then died.
in two cases, they just stopped being active and stopped eating one day, and by the following morninng were dead on the floor of the coop. fell right off the perch.
in none of the cases were there any physical external symptoms; only their behavior told me they were sick. The vet did an autopsy on the first one and found nothiing internally wrong.
I'm starting to suspect inbreeding at the breeder's hatchery. I can't think of any other reason why they would drop dead like this.
I have lost 6 hens this way, out of 22, in the course of 9 months. usually it happens right before they reach egg laying age. So, around 4 or 5 months of age.
I doubt if it is an inbreeding problem. I employ inbreeding for multiple types of animals and losses you describe generally do not play out like you describe. Either you are dealing with a parasite, something is major wrong with feed, or a poison of some sort is being consumed. First two are much more likely. Did Vet comment on condition / muscle mass of dead and living birds?
First guesses on parastites would be worms or coccidian. Did you have a very wet summer?
I suspect cocci. Here in Michigan, we had a very wet summer. I was forced to cull my first and only red pyle cockerels because they showed signs of it and the medicine I had to order wasn't arriving in time (due to warehouse errors). A little less than a week ago two of my pullets in my grow out pen showed signs of it. Luckily I have corid now and am treating both along with their flock area as a precautionary measure. The cockerel in the grow out pen did not get it.
Were your birds puffed up, lethargic, and not interested in food? A very tell tale sign of cocci is large amounts of blood in the poo and that's how I knew for sure with mine, but it doesn't show up in all strains of cocci. There are only 2 I believe that show the blood. Coccicidosis parisites thrive in wet conditions and that's how my birds got sick. I would clean and disenfect all feeders and waterers and change any bedding you may have. If not, like centrachid said, they could be getting into some kind of poison.
For feed, they have been ranging all summer, and I also give them a mixture of oats, barley and wheat grown ony my field my self organically. They have crushed oyster shells too. I give them veges from time to time from the garden, all on site, and the entire farm is 100% organic. I don't allow any chemicals, fertilisers, or anything at all unnatural. weeding is done by hand, and straw is placed down to stop weeds from starting.
I recently tested the groundwater too, the water in the well. it came back having almost undetectable amounts of E-Coli bacteria, not enough to pose a risk, and no pollutants.
I don't think it's feed and I'm reasonably sure it's not poison because not all the chickens suffer or die, plus the whole farm has been 100% organic for over 5 years and there are no pollution opr poison sources anywhere nearby. I have no neighbours nearby either.
this year it was very rainy for the first 7 weeks of spring and early summer, then it was dry as a bone until a few weeks ago. because of this weather most of my crops did very badly and a lot of my harvest actually failed completely (like thebeans and the melons, and the corn for the most part).
The vet didn't say anything about worms, and didn't comment on the body weight. But here in Poland (I'm a westerner living in poland) nobody calls the vet for a chicken; they just cull it and move on. the cost of a baby chicken is almost zero dollars, whereas a vet is very expensive. chickens are not regarded as pets here, they are part of a working farm. so the vet probably didn't know what he was doing, and was probably laughing at me on the inside for even asking him to come.
about coccidian, all these birds as chicks had access to real dirt and range from the first week of life, and so should have developed immunity, right? I haven't seen any coccidian abnormalities in their feces, and their coop is always cleaned before it gets too out of hand. I am not certain, but I don't think it's coccidian, as there are no symptoms.
This leaves only worms as a possibilty. how do you check for those? can they cause a chicken that is extremely vigorous and healthy and thriving one day to drop dead the next day with hardly any warning?
Clinical signs you indicate do not rule out an aggressive cocci infection so keep that in mind. Going organic does not rule out toxins from a biological source, especially if birds are nutritionally stressed. The 270' x 180' = 48,6000 ft^2 is pretty close to one acre. Keeping ten adult on that amount of ground could be problematic with respect to what the natural productivity of the ground will support.
What exactly are you feeding the birds and how much?
Have you been careful to make certain the grains being used are in good shape especially in respect to mold?
Take a couple birds of the roost and feel their breast. Also check their crops immediately after dark.
Ok, I guess I can run a cocci treatment, I'll do that this weekend. One of the 10 day old chicks just died today from pasty butt, and one more looks pretty weak. their mother hen is taking pretty good care of them but they are outside and it's getting cold so I hope that's it rather than a cocci infection...
about what I feed them: They get home grown organic oats, wheat and barley mixed in equal parts. I have one feeder with these as whole grains, and a second one with the same mix but ground to a course mix. these two feeders are always stocked and are there on demand. In addition to this I give them various vegetables that are also grown on the farm, such as carrots, beans, pumpkin, fruits, all kinds of stuff, from time to time but at least twice a week. They also have crushed oyster shells on demand. I calculated this diet to be approx 11% protein, usign the BYC cross-calculation chart. this is the diet I give them in the summer, and I thus rely on their ranging not for food volume or vitamins but rather to get the other 8% protein that they need (eating bugs like crickets, and also worms, which are abundant on my farm).
during the cold months when ranging won't give them the added protein, I will add home grown ground corn to the mix, 30%, to give them additional enegry, plus I will add organic soybean meal in a quantity to bring the overall protein percentage up to min 18%.
other than the soybean meal, all the food (including the grain) they are fed is grown organically on my farm by my own hand; I inspect the grains myself when preparing their feed to make sure that it has no mold or other rot problems.
there is a cow manure pile on the farm though, which I get fresh and allow to compost during the summer. it's a big pile, and I use it on the field to fertilise it, but only after it has composted for min 130 days. Once it has composed some and is filled with worms and other stuff but before I spread it on the field, the chickens have a field day digging thru it pulling out worms and insects. This is a potential source of illness for them I guess, but all my neighbours do the same thing and they don't seem to have as high of a mortality rate as I do.
About the available ranging area: By next spring I will have around 18 hens ranging on the property. This doesn't seem like many chickens considering how large the farm is, but per the above it seems that they need more space than this? how many square feet should there be for each chicken, if I want them to get at least some protein from ranging?
Easy questions to answer needed. I do not have a formula for the number of square feet required per bird. Answer varies with season, location, how area is managed and what weather has been lately. Answer you will need to figure out empirically, You will probably be able to increase some by planting some legumes and provide some cover patches (refugia) for insects. Also may it so you have strips of pasture of different heights to ensure you have preferred by grasshoppers. With proper grass height you can capitalize on insect drift where insects will linger longer on your patch increasing odds chickens will get them. A big part of the insects my yard flock consumes is drift rather than insects that grew up in yard. I wind direction and weather can impact how much drift comes through.