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ADJUSTMENTS MADE BY FREE-RANGING FLOCK TO COLD WEATHER: SHORT-TERM REDUCTION IN FEED INTAKE

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by centrarchid, Jan 12, 2012.

  1. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Holts Summit, Missouri
    I have three types of containment for my chickens during the winter. First is the typical arrangement where birds are confined and protected from wind at relatively high densities and fed layer pellets offered free-choice. Birds in the first setup are expected to produce eggs. Second system has birds also confined but protection from wind is minimal, the number of birds per square foot is lower and food is offered at a fixed rate although as wind chill goes down the addition of scratch grains to the base ration goes up. Birds in second setup are simply being maintained for a constant healthy weight with no expectation of egg production. The third group is not contained and gets much of their nutrition by truly free-range foraging and having access to feeding stations, each with a different type of feed supplied in total to exceed what birds will consume in a day. Latter group still consumes all feed in two out of three feeding stations each day. Last group is smallest and serves to proved insight into how they adjust to changes in their environment. The third group tends to produce eggs only when temperatures are not extreme.

    The third group is of greatest interest here. Generally, as temperature drops and / or wind increases, or snow accumulates the free-ranging birds make all sorts of adjustments. When temperatures drop without snow accumulation they spend more time foraging and loaf almost exclusively in protected locations from wind and predators that are also exposed to the sun. Pattern without sun when temperature is low falls apart with seeking of any sort of cover increasing but no effort is made to loaf in sunlight which does not provide warm spots I notice anyway. The interesting stuff involves snow accumulation. When snow first accumulates, they consistently go a couple days where they visit only one feeding station and their consumption appears to be restricted to what they consume from it. They then return to roost usually with empty crops. After a couple days of this they then resume hitting all feeding stations and again go to roost with full crops. When snow is deep enough to fully cover ground they literally fly distance between feeding stations which can be 125 to over 200 feet. These guys are either at least part red jungle fowl or American game so such flights are easy for them. When temperatures really dip down, instead of seeking cover in sunlit locations, they begin to hunker down under debris such as stacked wooden pallets or in heavy brush where sunlight does not penetrate well. They also tend to scratch down to dirt. Movement, during such extreme cold times with feeding stations, is limited to between roost and feeding stations and heavy cover with much of that involving flights. What really catches my attention is the couple of days where they voluntarily restrict their feed intake. Are they doing this to drop weight making flights easier? I have not tracked weight during these times but I can easily since birds roost on front porch not 30 feet from scale and they are used to routine handling.
     
  2. scottcaddy

    scottcaddy Overrun With Chickens

    Odd, I have also noticed that some of my birds slow down on the feed at the start of a cold snap.
    This is your new front porch flock then? Will they be nesting on the porch also?

    Scott
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2012
  3. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    It is the front porch flock as it exists now. Two ongoing events forcing me to restructure membership. First is Mareks disease which is hammering the hybrids. I think too much exposure to migratory songbirds that appear affected by same. Folks monitoring bird vectored disease need to be looking closer at such. Second is the red jungle fowl hybrids are too small. I have watched several times now the interactions they have with local red-tailed hawk. The red jungle fowl and their first generation hybrids do not seem to have the ability to repell the hawk like games can from cover. The ability to deal with diurnal raptors appears to a be a function of the game chickens. They have much of the same agility, are nearly twice the size and clearly have the mentality for defending their interests.

    I will be watching remaining hybrids and red jungle fowl through spring but will give them away by spring. Next summer I will reposition game pens so a free ranging game rooster can be released next fall. A single game pullet will be core of new group that will be initiated next fall. Game rooster will be outsourced as a stag from a fellow that has an all black strain. Will enable detection of undesired matings if they happen.
     
  4. scottcaddy

    scottcaddy Overrun With Chickens


    One of Sallie's pullets maybe?

    Scott
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2012
  5. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Yes, she (Tippy) is from Sallie and Eduardo's most recent brood. She is every bit as personable as her parents despite not being hand raised as they were. She is only free ranging bird on place that follows me about. She can also really crank when flying.
     
  6. scottcaddy

    scottcaddy Overrun With Chickens

    Then Tippy should also be as protective as Sallie and Eduardo were concerning the chicks. I see that as a good trait, the flying sounds very good also.

    Scott
     
  7. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    She can likely match Sallie alone but not combined ability of both parents. The rooster in this case invested heavily in protection of offspring. Hopefully the outsourced rooster will be similar.

    The flying ability is more for self preservation and my entertainment for filming. I do remember a couple game hens that would litterally fly at a threat to protect chicks but such behavior would be useless against most predators. Flying ability is very helpful during winter when quality foraging areas are far apart and snow is on ground. It is also good for getting away from ground predators as we all assume.
     
  8. scottcaddy

    scottcaddy Overrun With Chickens

    Did you ever figure out why Sallie started hiding her nest from you?

    Scott
     
  9. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    No; to figure out something like that would require monitoring many hens nesting. Her previous brood and balance of her flock roosting above may not have been acceptable. She may have been disturbed by predator while on the nest or she wanted to avoid being cuckholded by the red jungle fowl hen. She might also be hardwired to move location periodically. A year from now I will try to have a 10 free-ranging game hens to monitor. I have no use for so many chicks but I could let hens set clutches before harvesting eggs for the table.
     

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