Discouraged altogether

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Flock Leader, Dec 6, 2013.

  1. Flock Leader

    Flock Leader Chillin' With My Peeps

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    This isn't a very hopeful post. I thought I'd post in "Diseases" or "Pests", but then realized I'm thinking about everything together. It isn't just one thing. It really is everything. The key point is, no matter how hard we try, every year we have to start our flock almost from scratch.

    We buy quality feed, free range so our chickens get plenty of air and exercise, build secure cages, vaccinate, give individual care to each chicken, don't bring adult birds from outside (only hatching eggs or very young chicks) to prevent exposure to disease, keep our chickens free from parasites; we live in a moderate climate, and so our chickens are never very cold - and yet we lose almost all our chickens every year.

    No matter how hard we try to avoid diseases, something new always strikes.

    No matter how hard we try to protect our chickens from predators, something snatches them up right under our nose.

    If we think we tricked something, something else appears, and our chickens just drop dead. Sometimes we have enough eggs for our family, sometimes we don't, but having these eggs, when we sum it up, isn't cost effective at all!!

    Right now I'm at a point when I find it hard to care anymore. We lost so many chickens, after so much hard work. A decision I made is that we stop buying chicken feed for now, and only feed leftovers. We have plenty of leftovers, and the rainy season has finally begun, so there will be more forage for the chickens. We just can't continue to keep buying feed for chickens who keep dying.

    We will also stop vaccinating, because I haven't seen it make any difference in the disease rates.

    Any thoughts from others who felt discouraged from keeping chickens?
     
  2. Sjisty

    Sjisty Scribe of Brahmalot

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    I'm sorry you have been having such problems with your flock. Maybe the problem isn't the fact that you have chickens, maybe it's the kind of chickens you have. Some are just hardier than others.

    We used to have hawk visits daily, losing one or two chickens every day. Since we switched to a bigger breed (Brahmas), that is no longer a problem. I have now watched my big girls twice chase a hawk away! Coyotes are an occasional problem, but most predators come at night now, when the flock is safely locked up in the coops.

    As far as disease, we do occasionally lose a chicken for unknown reasons. Our oldest rooster (eight years old) had what seems to have been a stroke last spring/summer. He is now almost fully recovered, but does walk with a limp and is no longer head roo. I keep a variety of medicines at hand for any illness that might spring up, but we do lose a chicken or two each year due to illness.

    We don't vaccinate our chickens, either. We have a closed flock and, so far, haven't had anything catastrophic. We do worm once a month.

    Feeding just leftovers might be a problem. The best way to ensure that your chickens have the correct nutrition is to give them the correct food. Just like any other animal, they can live on leftovers and forage, but will be much healthier if you continue to give them chicken feed.

    Chickens are so entertaining to watch, and I find they really aren't that much work. We free range ours daily and use deep litter in their coops. We turn the litter every couple of weeks to "stir it up" and except for rainy season, that's pretty much all we have to do. We have feeding troughs and automatic waterers, so feeding is pretty simple.

    I hope things work out better for you in the future. They really are a joy to own. There's nothing like winding down after a long day, sitting outside in the back yard, surrounded by all your "feathered children."
     
  3. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Where are located? Acreage available for raising birds free-range? Source of birds used? Breed? Describe actual setup.

    You maybe pushing system too hard.
     
  4. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Chicken Obsessed

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    Hmm, could there be something on your place that they're getting into that's toxic to them? It just doesn't sound right that they're dropping dead like that. I've had chickens for years. Never vaccinated any myself (when I order from a hatchery, we do get the Marek's vaccine, but I haven't even done that for years), never wormed them. They get whatever feed our local feed store carries. Maybe you're over-protecting? If you're having predator issues, you might want to consider having your chickens in a run. At least part of the time. We free range, but we do it knowing that we're taking a chance. After several years without a problem, something (we think coyotes) snatched 4 or 5 of them in a short span of a couple of hours while we were on vacation this summer. I'm not sure about just feeding them leftovers. I think they need the balance of grains in the feed. You're feeding them people food, and their nutritional needs are different from ours. I do understand your thinking, though. And if you're in an area where they can get plenty of food free ranging, that will help. I hardly buy any feed in the summer when my birds are out picking plants and bugs. Their choice, not mine. I still make sure feed is available, though.
     
  5. Flock Leader

    Flock Leader Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thank you all for your replies. We live in an area where our chickens have all the space they need for free-range (we have no fencing, and the chickens roam free, yet they don't reach as far as our nearest neighbours). We have an assorted flock of both big and small birds of various breeds, some of them are supposed to be hardy (local mixed-breeds), some delicate (Bantam Silkies), it makes no difference in death/predator rates. Last year we did have what was probably Marek's, and vaccine is impossible to obtain where we live (or rather, it is sold only to commercial breeders, selling it to private breeders is against the law). However, the symptoms of the mysterious disease we have this year isn't typical Marek's like we've seen before - no limping, no neurological symptoms, the bird just looks fine one day, seems a little listless and with a droopy comb next day, and by the morning after that it's dead. I have no idea if it's something toxic, it's possible of course but seems highly unlikely - we use no pesticides or poison for rats/mice (our barn owl takes care of that). They get fresh food and water every day. It never goes below freezing point around here. As far as I can see we placed our birds in chicken heaven, but something always keeps happening!

    I do love chickens so much, and they are an endless source of entertainment for our kids, and really when they are healthy they aren't difficult to maintain at all, but when something always happens and you just feel helpless, it's so discouraging. I'd hate to give up chicken-keeping though.

    And I guess you are right, reducing the quality of their food won't help. At least a sack of feed will now last longer, because we have fewer chickens...
     
  6. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    You still did not provide much of information need to figure problem out.


    Whittle FLOCK down to a trio and breed up from that. That will allow you to slowly test watch for what may be limiting. When you get a sick if recently deceased bird feel it to see if it is in good flesh.
     
  7. Ruthster55

    Ruthster55 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I have recently been testing small numbers of birds of different types for a flock in an area where it does not go below freezing, but has numerous cool rainy days. The idea is to pick out what breeds of birds or what mixes do best in this climate.

    I lost the frizzles, except for an adult hen that I had to treat with an antibiotic. :-( The Frizzles were various mixes, all with the frizzle trait. They are the cutest birds, but they just don't seem to tolerate mild chilly, damp weather.

    The Naked Neck mixes are doing OK.

    The young barred rocks are the diametric opposite of the frizzles. They are all doing quite well.
     
  8. ivan3

    ivan3 spurredon Premium Member

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    Central Child's suggestion, that you decrease the number of variables that need be considered as potentially contributing to the bleeding away of both gumption and satisfaction, is a good one, IIRC you `liberated' some some lab chooks? And, now? Let nature take its course (well, sort of, if I'm reading your frustration accurately).

    Pred's contribution is easiest to quantify and consequently suppress/eliminate, or stymie (observations of behaviors resulting in actionable predictive value...) Have you looked into the quality/age of feed? As CC mentioned - check the prominence of the keels on these chooks - could be someone is repackaging old feed and the overall decrease in `caloric energetics' is contributing to degradation of immune function.

    You are conducting gross necroscopies of those chooks that die, yes? Have you tried isolating a small number of chicks and raising them on wire with enhanced diet to see if those `assays' fall victim to the same progression from generalized `malaise' to death? (if they develop all fat and happy, that result would serve to refine your remaining hypotheses for further testing).

    If it is best to wind down project into a series of chicken dinners, well, there it is. If not? Good luck and good hunting.
     
  9. Flock Leader

    Flock Leader Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Hmm... how shall I put this? Each and every factor is more or less possible to deal with. If it was just Marek's, fine. If it was only a fox sometimes, fine. If our dog got away and strangled a few chickens just once, fine. If it was only a snake that ate a clutch of about-to-hatch eggs, fine. But everything together... it's like it all conspires against us! Basically I feel we've just been unlucky. We'll persevere, though. At least the predator issue is more or less tackled now.
     
  10. Sjisty

    Sjisty Scribe of Brahmalot

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    We went through our share, too. Snakes eating just hatched chicks and eggs. A coyote killing chickens (in broad daylight) the same day we found a rattlesnake in the grow-out pen. A mystery illness striking point-of-lay pullets. Hawks hitting the flock daily. Even an alligator in the yard, although he didn't get a chicken dinner. It seems there is always something! Oh, and our own turkey killing his best friend chicken because he suddenly wanted to breed her (we ate him).

    And then there was the neighbor's dogs (3 of them). She would let them out every morning before work and they would come straight here for chicken breakfast. I was at my wit's end about that one. After the third time Animal Control said they couldn't do anything and to just shoot the dogs. When I told the owner that, she decided to better control her dogs. This year we had another problem with a dog, but it was a stray. Oh, and one of our rather dumb chickens jumped the fence into another neighbor's yard. Their dog had chicken dinner that day, but it wasn't their fault. That one was hubby's favorite Rhode Island Red, Shadow.

    Rainy season came and it seemed like I lost a young chicken every time it rained. I never knew why. And then there was the fox. We lost 7 chickens in 2 days to him.

    It got to the point I was didn't want to go into the back yard because I was afraid of which one I'd lose that day. There were several beloved ones lost in those early days. I still remember when I went into town to get a Starbuck's coffee and came home to find my precious Jolly, headless under a tree. I was hysterical over that one! Oh, I almost forgot - our alpha rooster, Rocky, with botulism. That was almost 7 years ago and he's still with us, thankfully, although his son is now alpha roo.

    It's been a couple of years or so since we suffered constant losses like those. The predators have pretty much gone away. I understand a neighbor has declared open season on coyotes. The fox disappeared and never came back. I now have large chickens that chase the hawks away! Snakes we kill on sight, I don't care if they're the "good ones" or not.

    We still lose the occasional chicken, and I still get upset to lose a pet, but nothing like when we were new chicken owners. I'm not sure what changed. We still have the same coops, use the same food, same well-water, etc., but our flock has mostly survived. Now we face the certainty of losing them again, but to old age. Most of our favorites are 7+ years old, including several hens who still lay regularly! Old Rocky had a stroke over the summer but has mostly recovered. He is in a coop/run with Hope, the victim of the stray dog attack who, again, has mostly recovered but has never laid another egg. They will live out what's left of their lives in peace and safety. Rocky's son tried to kill his weakened pa, so Rocky can't free range, and I'm afraid of what a rooster's spurs would do to Hope, after one side being almost totally skinned by the dog attack, so she will never free range again. Frack, our favorite girl, came down with a mystery illness recently and I had to tube feed her and give her antibiotics for a week, but she is now fully recovered and back with the flock. She's another 7-ish year-old huge Brahma and used to be the alpha hen, but also lost that title to a younger upstart!

    Anyway, I'm sorry for the long post! The moral of my story is - hang in there! Once you get past all your trials and tribulations, you will reap the joy of owning chickens!

    By the way, as I'm writing this, I look up to see at least a dozen girls at the front door wanting their morning treat - yup, the joys of chickenhood!
     

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